Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released more documents that reveal remote spying operations that include bulk data collection and user tracking, this time concerning the Canadian public, CBC News reports. According to a presentation dating back to May 2012, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has used an airport’s free Wi-Fi system over a period of two weeks to collect information from travellers that had cellphones or laptops with them – including Canadians, according to unnamed experts – and then used the data to further track the same users at other airports in the country and even at U.S. airports for more than a week, as their devices appeared on other Wi-Fi networks.
“The document shows CSEC had so much data it could even track the travellers back in time through the days leading up to their arrival at the airport, these experts say,” CBC News writes.
Representatives from Canada’s main airports in Toronto and Vancouver say they have not helped the CSEC with this project. Similarly, Boingo, who offers wireless services in some Canadian airports, says it did not help the agency.
According to the presentation, this was a trial run for CSEC, which was developing a new surveillance program together with the NSA. In a different pilot project, the CSEC said in the presentation that it obtained access to two communications systems with more than 300,000 users and that it would have been able to “’sweep’ an entire mid-sized Canadian city to pinpoint a specific imaginary target in a fictional kidnaping.”
However, it’s not clear how the data was collected and what means were used to track users once they left the airport in question. The agency said that the technologies used were “game-changing,” and that the system could be employed to monitor “any target that makes occasional forays into other cities/regions.” According to sources that talked to CBC News, “the technologies tested on Canadians in 2012 have since become fully operational.”
The document also reveals that CSEC intended to share its advancements with spy agencies from the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and Australia.
Privacy watchdogs and security experts believe that CSEC’s data collection trial program has been illegal. The agency says that it has not spied on Canadians and that it only collected metadata during the operation, not actual communication contents, something it’s legally authorized to do. “CSEC claims “no Canadian or foreign travellers’ movements were ‘tracked,'” although it does not explain why it put the word “tracked” in quotation marks,” CBC News wrote.