EspañolThe Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s equivalent to the US National Security Agency (NSA), is monitoring the online activity of millions of internet users, to identify people they deem to be extremists. The revelation comes in top-secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to CBC News on Wednesday, January 28.
Project Levitation allows Canada’s electronic spy agency to access information on about 10 to 15 million file transfers from over 100 free websites each day, according to the document.
“Every single thing that you do — in this case uploading/downloading files to these sites — that act is being archived, collected and analyzed,” says Ron Deibert, director of the University of Toronto-based internet security think tank Citizen Lab, who reviewed the document.
Until recently, Canada has been described as a junior partner in the Five Eyes spying alliance comprising the United States, Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia. The revelations in these documents mark the first time the CSE has been shown to have led a global mass-surveillance project.
Sendspace, Rapidshare, and the now-defunct Megaupload, are the only three file-host companies named in the document. Sendspace told CBC News that “no organization has the ability/permission to trawl/search Sendspace for data,” and its policy states it won’t disclose user identities unless legally required. The other file-sharing websites did not respond.
The Levitation document, however, says that data comes from unidentified “special sources,” a term that in previously released Snowden documents means that telecommunication companies or cable operators are facilitating the information.
Analysts found around 350 “interesting download events” each month, less than 0.0001 percent of the total collected traffic, according to a classified PowerPoint presentation contained in the documents. It works like a “giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives,” says Deibert.
Once a suspicious file is detected, analysts can see five hours of that computer’s online activity before and after the file was downloaded by feeding the target’s IP address through a database called Mutant Broth. The database is run by the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), and stores billions of internet cookies that can be used to reconstruct activity.
“CSE is legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata, including from parts of the internet routinely used by terrorists. Some of CSE’s metadata analysis activities are designed to identify foreign terrorists who use the internet to conduct activities that threaten the security of Canada and Canadian citizens,” said a CSE spokesman.