Touring the digital through type

Tag: Surveillance (Page 1 of 31)

We Chat, They Watch: How International Users Unwittingly Build up WeChat’s Chinese Censorship Apparatus

(Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash)

Over the past several months I’ve had the distinct honour to work with, and learn from, a number of close colleagues and friends on the topic of surveillance and censorship that takes place on WeChat. We have published a report with the Citizen Lab entitled, “We Chat, They Watch: How International Users Unwittingly Build up WeChat’s Chinese Censorship Apparatus.” The report undertook a mixed methods approach to understand how non-China registered WeChat accounts were subjected to surveillance which was, then, used to develop a censorship list that is applied to users who have registered their accounts in China. Specifically, the report:

  • Presents results from technical experiments which reveal that WeChat communications conducted entirely among non-China-registered accounts are subject to pervasive content surveillance that was previously thought to be exclusively reserved for China-registered accounts.
  • Documents and images transmitted entirely among non-China-registered accounts undergo content surveillance wherein these files are analyzed for content that is politically sensitive in China.
  • Upon analysis, files deemed politically sensitive are used to invisibly train and build up WeChat’s Chinese political censorship system.
  • From public information, it is unclear how Tencent uses non-Chinese-registered users’ data to enable content blocking or which policy rationale permits the sharing of data used for blocking between international and China regions of WeChat.
  • Tencent’s responses to data access requests failed to clarify how data from international users is used to enable political censorship of the platform in China.

You can download the report as a pdf, or read it on the Web in its entirety at the Citizen Lab’s website. There is also a corresponding FAQ to quickly answer questions that you may have about the report.

A Predator in Your Pocket : A Multidisciplinary Assessment of the Stalkerware Application Industry

With a series of incredible co-authors at the Citizen Lab, I’ve co-authored a report that extensively investigates the stalkerware ecosystem. Stalkerware refers to spyware which is either deliberately manufactured to, or repurposed to, facilitate intimate partner violence, abuse, or harassment. “A Predator in Your Pocket” is accompanied by a companion legal report, also released by the Citizen Lab. This companion report is entitled “Installing Fear: A Canadian Legal and Policy Analysis of Using, Developing, and Selling Smartphone Spyware and Stalkerware Applications,” and conducts a comprehensive criminal, civil, regulatory, and international law assessment of the legality of developing, selling, and using stalkerware.

Continue reading

Government Surveillance Accountability: The Failures of Contemporary Interception Reports

Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

Over the past several years I’ve undertaken research exploring how, how often, and for what reasons governments in Canada access telecommunications data. As one facet of this line of research I worked with Dr. Adam Molnar to understand the regularity at which policing agencies across Canada have sought, and obtained, warrants to lawfully engage in real-time electronic surveillance. Such data is particularly important given the regularity at which Canadian law enforcement agencies call for new powers; how effective are historical methods of capturing communications data? How useful are the statistics which are tabled by governments? We answer these questions in a paper published with the Canadian Journal of Law and Technology, entitled ‘Government Surveillance Accountability: The Failures of Contemporary Canadian Interception Reports.” The abstract, follows, as do links to the Canadian interception reports upon which we based our findings.

Abstract:

Real time electronic government surveillance is recognized as amongst the most intrusive types of government activity upon private citizens’ lives. There are usually stringent warranting practices that must be met prior to law enforcement or security agencies engaging in such domestic surveillance. In Canada, federal and provincial governments must report annually on these practices when they are conducted by law enforcement or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, disclosing how often such warrants are sought and granted, the types of crimes such surveillance is directed towards, and the efficacy of such surveillance in being used as evidence and securing convictions.

This article draws on an empirical examination of federal and provincial electronic surveillance reports in Canada to examine the usefulness of Canadian governments’ annual electronic surveillance reports for legislators and external stakeholders alike to hold the government to account. It explores whether there are primary gaps in accountability, such as where there are no legislative requirements to produce records to legislators or external stakeholders. It also examines the extent to which secondary gaps exist, such as where there is a failure of legislative compliance or ambiguity related to that compliance.

We find that extensive secondary gaps undermine legislators’ abilities to hold government to account and weaken capacities for external stakeholders to understand and demand justification for government surveillance activities. In particular, these gaps arise from the failure to annually table reports, in divergent formatting of reports between jurisdictions, and in the deficient narrative explanations accompanying the tabled electronic surveillance reports. The chronic nature of these gaps leads us to argue that there are policy failures emergent from the discretion granted to government Ministers and failures to deliberately establish conditions that would ensure governmental accountability. Unless these deficiencies are corrected, accountability reporting as a public policy instrument threatens to advance a veneer of political legitimacy at the expense of maintaining fulsome democratic safeguards to secure the freedoms associated with liberal democratic political systems. We ultimately propose a series of policy proposals which, if adopted, should ensure that government accountability reporting is both substantial and effective as a policy instrument to monitor and review the efficacy of real-time electronic surveillance in Canada.

Canadian Electronic Surveillance Reports

Alberta

British Columbia

Government of Canada

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland

Nova Scotia

Ontario

Quebec

Saskatchewan

Horizontal Accountability and Signals Intelligence: Lesson Drawing from Annual Electronic Surveillance Reports

‘Radome at Hartland Point’ by shirokazan (CC BY 2.0) at https://flic.kr/p/dfn9ei

Adam Molnar and I have a new paper on accountability and signals intelligence, which we will be presenting at the Security Intelligence & Surveillance in the Big Data Age workshop. The workshop will be held at the University of Ottawa later this month as part of the Big Data Surveillance partnership project that is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The paper focuses exclusively on the mechanisms which are needed for civil society actors to evaluate the propriety of actions undertaken by signals intelligence agencies. In it, we argue that Canada’s foreign signals intelligence agency’s public accountability reporting might be enhanced by drawing on lessons from existing statutory electronic surveillance reporting. Focusing exclusively on Canada’s signals intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), we first outline the relationships between accountability of government agencies to their respective Ministers and Members of Parliament, the role of transparency in enabling governmental accountability to the public, and the link between robust accountability regimes and democratic legitimacy of government action. Next, we feature a contemporary bulk data surveillance practice undertaken by Canada’s signals intelligence agency and the deficiencies in how CSE’s existing review body makes the Establishment’s practices publicly accountable to Parliamentarians and the public alike. We then discuss how proposed changes to CSE oversight and review mechanisms will not clearly rectify the existing public accountability deficits. We conclude by proposing a principle-based framework towards a robust public accountability process that is linked to those underlying domestic and foreign statutory electronic surveillance reports.

A copy of our paper, titled, “Horizontal Accountability and Signals Intelligence: Lesson Drawing from Annual Electronic Surveillance Reports,” is available at the Social Sciences Research Network as well as for download from this website.

« Older posts