Friday, February 27, 2015

Canada's Communications Security Establishment collecting million of Canadian emails sent to government sites

Canada's Communications Security Establishment(CSE) is collecting millions of emails sent by Canadians to government sites on the Internet. The collected emails are searched for malware that could attack government computer networks.
A top secret document obtained by the CBC and the US news site The Intercept revealed details about the collection of emails. The document is from 2010. It is among the documents obtained from NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden. The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is Canada's cryptologic agency, responsible for foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) and also for protection of government electronic and communication networks. Recently a new headquarters was built for the agency at a cost of $1.1 billion, making it the most expensive government facility ever built. This no doubt shows the priority of the Canadian Conservative government. Many who support the government constantly complain of government spending but when it comes to national security matters efficiency and control of costs do not seem to count. The facilities are on 83 acres and the headquarters occupy 1.2 million square feet. It is next door to the broader spy agency Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
The CSE collected about 400,000 emails sent to government sites each day. Some of the data was stored for years. I expect that the agency thinks that some day it might be useful to mine the data for a specific purpose. The numbers collected have probably grown considerably since 2010 assuming the process is still ongoing. The emails include those of people filing taxes on line, sending emails to members of parliament, and applying for passports.
While the aim of protecting government sites from malware is laudable, there are questions as to the breadth of the collections and whether there are any rules regarding the length of time the emails are kept. As a member of the Five Eyes, these emails may very well be shared with spy agencies in the US, UK, New Zealand, and Australia. The Five Eyes operates beyond the laws of its member countries according to Snowden: The former NSA contractor Edward Snowden described the Five Eyes as a "supra-national intelligence organisation that doesn't answer to the known laws of its own countries".Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the FVEY have been spying on one another's citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on domestic spying.While Chris Parsons, an internet security expert, said that there are legitimate reasons why the agency might monitor you communications with the government: “But you should be able to communicate with your government without the fear that what you say … could come back to haunt you in unexpected ways, When we collect huge volumes, it’s not just used to track bad guys. It goes into data stores for years or months at a time and then it can be used at any point in the future.”The CSE uses a tool called PonyExpress to search for suspicious links or attachments.The PonyExpress finds about 400 suspicious emails each or about 146,000 a year. CSE analysts look at each suspicious email to see if it poses a threat. About four emails a day are found to be serious enough a threat for the agency to contact the government departments that may face a potential threat. The emails themselves may be held for days up to months. The metadata containing details about who sent the email, when and where, can be kept for years. The CSE is barred from targeting content of Canadians' emails or phone calls, but it can receive ministerial exemptions if the situation involves protecting government IT infrastructure.
The CSE refuses to provide any specifics about how much email and metadata they collect or when they are deleted. They insist such information could be helpful to those engaged in malicious cyberactivity directed against government networks. Michael Vonn, policy director at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association argues that Canadians could be told how long the agency holds the data without putting the security of government networks at risk. Vonn said: “It’s distressing that we have to find [details] out in dribs and drabs as opposed to having the appropriate discussion nationally and democratically. If we're going to have trust that our agencies are acting responsibly, we need as much light shone on the architecture, the laws and the rules, as possible."Actually, much information only comes courtesy of whistle blowers such as Snowden who make public classified information.The CSE mandate allows it to hold email addresses, IP addresses, and other identifiers for up to thirty years. It can then transfer it to Library and Archives Canada. CSE claims that hackers probe government networks about 80 million times a day searching for vulnerabilities.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Canadian Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy released on bail in Egypt

Mohamed Fahmy, the Al Jazeera journalist jailed in Egypt for a year, has been released on $41,000 bail. Fahmy was born in Egypt but is a Canadian citizen. He gave up his Egyptian citizenship as part of a deal that was supposed to end in his release.

 A retrial was ordered for three Al Jazeera journalists, Fahmy, Baher Mohammed, and Peter Greste, an Australian. Greste was released and returned back to Australia on February 1. In the case of Greste, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott intervened directly calling Egyptian president el-Sissi three times. There have been demands that Stephen Harper also intervene personally beyond sending a letter. Marc Garneau a Liberal MP has been pushing for Harper to phone el-Sissi: ""I don't think there has been a voice conversation, and I think that's particularly significant. I understand that there are efforts now being made to have the prime minister speak to President el-Sisi over the telephone, and that's long overdue..I think that for the Egyptian president to be contacted by the prime minister of Canada, directly over the phone and talking to him, has a significantly greater impact than a letter."" Harper maintains that the government has been active at all levels:" When asked about Canada's efforts on Fahmy's case, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday that his government had "been in contact with Egyptian authorities at all levels, including my level.""We will continue to press for his release. And we do remain optimistic that this case will be resolved," "

 At the hearing at which bail was granted to Fahmy the retrial was set to resume on February 23. The family and Canadian government officials all thought that Fahmy would be released shortly after the release of Greste. Liberal MP Marc Garneau said on Twitter and in a CBC interview: ""Good news, but pressure must be maintained for full release..I understand that when you're accused of terrorism, it's unusual to get bail, so I think that is an indication that some of the pressure is working, coming from all quarters."" However, eleven other defendants in the case including Baher Mohammed were also released on bail and all are accused of helping terrorism through support of the Muslim Brotherhood in various ways.

Even President el-Sissi regrets that Egypt jailed the three journalists. He told the German magazine Der Spiegel:""If I had been in office at the time, I would have wanted no further problems and would have asked them to leave the country," He regrets the controversy, recognizing, it seems, that while Fahmy and the others were convicted for damaging Egypt's international reputation, it is Egypt itself that has done more harm on that front because of the publicity and Western reaction surrounding the arrests." The prosecutor wanted to go ahead with retrial of all three. Prosecutors had argued against the deportation of Greste on the grounds it would look as if foreigners were getting special treatment. If Fahmy were released as well, this would only confirm this to be so.

Under Egyptian law, now that the retrial has started the court must retry the entire case. The judge does not even have the power to stop the process. Now that the trial has begun, President el-Sisi cannot use his power simply to deport Fahmy. It looks as if Fahmy will be stuck in Egypt for some time to come.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jailed Canadian-Egyptian Al Jazeera journalist faces new trial

The release of Canadian Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy was expected at any moment after his colleague, Australian Peter Greste. was released last week. However, both he and the third defendant Baher Mohamed are to be retried beginning February 12th. Amal Clooney, the well-known lawyer and rights activist, has written a letter to Egypt's President el-Sissi requesting that she meet with him and designated officials to discuss Fahmy's release. Clooney is one of the lawyers representing Fahmy. She has had her share of famous clients including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and former Ukrainian president Yulia Tymoshenko. She requested the meeting a few days before the retrial was scheduled. The text of her letter can be found here.

Fahmy, Greste, and Baher Mohamed were all charged with helping the Muslim Brotherhood, regarded as a terrorist organization in Egypt. Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years and Mohamed to 10. All three claim they are innocent and victims of trumped-up charges resulting from disagreements between Egypt and Qatar, that owns Al Jazeera. Egypt sees Qatar as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Clooney noted that she has repeatedly asked the Egyptian government to release Fahmy from his "illegal detention." Since he has yet to be released she wants to meet with el-Sissi and designated officials to discuss the status of the case. She intends to travel to Egypt to meet with Fahmy and requested el-Sissi inform her as to when she can meet with him and officials.

After the release of Greste, everyone thought that Fahmy would also be released but now those hopes seem dashed for the moment. Fahmy, the Canadian government and his lawyers all thought that there was a deal to release Fahmy once he renounced his Egyptian citizenship. He did so but with great reluctance. In a statement after the retrial was announced Fahmy's family said: ""Mohamed never requested that he drop his citizenship. The authorities visited him before the appeal hearing on January 1st. and made a deal with him to renounce it in return for his freedom claiming this was the only way out for him and Peter. It was one of the most difficult decisions he has ever taken that has left him demoralised." "

 Fahmy's family, his lawyers, Amnesty International, and many in the media urged Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to personally intervene as did the Prime Minister Abbott of Australia in the case of Peter Greste. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation(ABC): "The ABC understands Mr Abbott spoke directly to interim Egyptian president Adly Mansour on Thursday night and asked for Greste to be released." So far Harper has not personally intervened though Conservative officials have called for Fahmy's release. The family said the new trial date represents "our worst nightmare, to have to go through another circus of a retrial."

 The family statement claims the general prosecutor is complicating the situation while the Egyptian president and prime minister support his release. It may be that the prosecutor is worried the public will see the situation as one in which foreigners get off with no punishment while the lone Egyptian Baher Mohamed has to face trial and punishment again. The wife of Mohamed said: "It's the peak of injustice for my husband to remain in prison and be tried while his foreign colleagues are freed." Many Egyptians may feel that way. If Fahmy is tried along with Mohamed and both are found not guilty this time around, this might placate both foreign observers and the Egyptian public. This may be what the prosecutor has in mind. Given that Egypt holds mass trials with hundreds given the death sentence and allows security forces to kill hundreds of protesters with complete impunity, ensuring a just decision will not be part of the calculation by Egyptian authorities. Who knows, the court could find both guilty again just to show what happens when foreigners try to influence Egyptian courts. They could even find Fahmy not guilty and Mohamed guilty. This would placate foreigners and show Egyptians that they should never ever say a kind word about the Muslim Brotherhood.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Green Party and civil liberties groups criticize Harper's anti-terror bill

While leaders of the two main Canadian opposition parties the New Democratic Party's Thomas Mulcair, and Liberal, Justin Trudeau, have been muted in criticism of Harper's new anti-terrorism legislation, Green Party leader Elizabeth May is quite critical.

Both Trudeau and Mulcair have asked for more oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), given that they are given considerable more powers under the new legislation than they previously had. However, Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, said that his party would vote for the legislation even if the Conservative government of Stephen Harper did not accept changes suggested by his party. The NDP is building a case against the bill and Mulcair, the leader, is likely to announce his opposition to the bill when parliament meets later in the month. However, while the NDP caucus build its case, Mulcair asks questions about oversight and seems wary of being targeted as soft on terrorism.

 A major Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail published a quite critical editorial on the Bill-C51 the new anti-terror legislation. May said on her website: “I completely agree with the editorial in the Globe and Mail today that Parliament must reject this bill. In the House of Commons today, I urged all MPs to read the editorial and not allow the Conservatives to turn CSIS into a secret police force.The words found under the definition of ‘activities,’ which affect the ‘security of Canadians,’ are so broad that the definition can apply to almost any activity, including nonviolent civil disobedience. This bill could now treat peaceful protesters as potential terrorists. Is Stephen Harper using the imagined fear of widespread security threats to score political points before the next election?”

The Globe and Mail article notes, as do commentators on May's site, that the Harper legislation can be used against many other groups than terrorists associated with Islamic radicalism. Harper has long been suggesting that radical environmentalists out to block projects favored by the Harper government and the oil industry are "public enemies", as far back as 2012. In 2014 an RCMP report joined the chorus suggesting that radical environmentalists were a larger threat to Canadian energy development than religious extremism: “Environmental ideologically motivated individuals including some who are aligned with a radical, criminal extremist ideology pose a clear and present criminal threat to Canada’s energy sector. The Canadian law enforcement and security intelligence community have noted a growing radicalized faction of environmentalists who advocate the use of criminal activity to promote the protection of the natural environment.” No doubt aboriginal activists may also expect to come under increased scrutiny by CSIS under this new legislation.

 Even US whistleblower, Edward Snowden, warned Toronto high school students about the new legislation. Along with journalist Glenn Greenwald, Snowden delivered a keynote speech at Upper Canada College's annual World Affairs Conference. Snowden spoke through a Google Hangout connection from somewhere in Russia. Snowden claimed that the new bill "fundamentally changes the balance of power between the citizen and the state." Responding to some remarks about his violating his commitments not to divulge secrets and the view of some that he is a traitor, Snowden said: “Regardless of how bad a guy I am, ultimately the revelation of warrantless wiretapping, mass surveillance on a global scale is something that we the people deserve to know. And if the government will not tell us, it falls to journalists ... to find and publish the information that informs our voting habits.”Snowden was critical of the mass media who tried to change the narrative as to whether he was a hero or traitor instead of focusing on the substance of what he had revealed.

 The Globe and Mail editorial notes that CSIS will now have powers to actively stop any activity that "undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada. Activities listed include 'interference with critical infrastucture" or "interference with the capability of the Government in relation to..the economic or financial stability of Canada." The Globe points out that an environmentalist who blew up part of a pipeline would be covered under the law as being a terrorist. A Quebec separatist party could be regarded as terrorist since it would "undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Canada." Aboriginal activists who block a train line could be terrorists. No doubt union activity that interfered with production could become terrorist action.

 Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Assocaition (CCLA) claimed that no explanation had been given as to why our existing laws were not adequate to deal with terrorism. She complained that "advocacy of terrorism" was undefined and that criminalizing such an undefined action could have a chilling effect on what academics and journalists might feel that they could say or write. That probably is the whole idea of leaving the phrase undefined. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association said that the bill would produce "an unprecedented expansion of powers that will harm innocent Canadians and not increase public safety." Unfortunately, the many forceful critiques of Bill-C51 are unlikely to cause the Harper government to change the legislation substantially.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Harper government to give new powers to CSIS to counter terrorism

On Friday, the federal Canadian Conservative government of Stephen Harper introduced legislation giving new powers to the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service along with a number of other measures designed to counter terrorist threats.
The new bill C-51 is only 62 pages long but contains new and extensive powers to detain suspects on less evidence and also to allow CSIS to interfere both with suspects' travel plans and also finances. The entire bill can be read here. The new powers allow law enforcement agencies to arrest a person if they merely think a terrorist act "may be carried out" instead of the requirement now that they think that such an act "will be carried out". The period of preventive detention of an arrested suspect is extended from three days to seven. Reduced evidence is also a factor in changes for retaining suspects on the basis of a terrorism peace bond. Now, the bond can be obtained only if the police think the suspect "will commit" a terrorism offence but under the new law, they need only believe the person "may commit" a terrorism offence. The new peace bond requires the person to surrender their passport. The bill also requires judges to consider imposing further conditions such as electronic monitoring or a ban on leaving the country. All these restrictions can be imposed even though the suspect is never charged or found guilty of any crime. These provisions give enormous power to authorities based only upon what they think you may do.

 While at present it is illegal to promote a specific terrorist offence, the new bill bans promotion or international advocacy of terrorism in general and allows for a maximum prison sentence of five years for doing so. A CBC article notes: "Officials were careful to note that the bill doesn't criminalize the glorification of terrorism, noting the difficulty in balancing freedom of speech with the desire to keep people from encouraging terrorist activity. " ​ I guess you could say: "The Islamic State is the greatest example of pure Islamic thought that the world has ever seen. No other version of Islam comes close to fully implementing the commands of Allah". Just do not add that you should join the group and wage jihad as that would be promoting terrorism, since the Islamic State is classified as a terrorist entity. What such legislation does is to ensure that radicals hide their discussions and planning even more. This law will probably be used not just against Islamic radicals. It will be helpful in confronting radical environmentalists or aboriginal activists.

 CSIS is given new powers to disrupt activities it considers terrorist, including Twitter accounts and radical websites, not only in Canada but abroad as well. Some of this disruptive activity might be illegal surely and create problems in foreign relations. The CSIS could also "counter-message" by challenging messages posted on radical sites. This sort of activity is sure to be noticed by jihadists and become an object of ridicule. The disruption could include interfering with travel plans, financial transactions, or even intercepting goods. However a court order would be needed if these actions interfered with the legal rights of a subject, if the subject were a Canadian or permanent resident. If the suspect were a non-Canadian and outside of Canada, a legal analysis of the situation would be required. "Disruption" is not even defined in the legislation. Examples given include interruption of a phone call between subjects. Surely, this type of action would clue suspects in to the fact they were under surveillance. CSIS might also contact family and friends to attempt to have them dissuade the suspect from taking part in any terrorist acts. This would alert the suspect that they were under investigation and no doubt would cause them to hide any plans from family and friends.

In the past, CSIS has disrupted activities by infiltrating them often using tactics that are debatable and even involved taxpayers funding radical groups: From 1988 to 1994, CSIS mole Grant Bristow infiltrated the Canadian white-supremacist movement. When the story became public knowledge, the press aired concerns that he had not only been one of the founders of the Heritage Front group, but that he had also channeled CSIS funding to the group.[28] Officials could apply to a court to "seize terrorist propaganda" or force a website to remove certain materials that would promote acts of terrorism against Canadians. This is an expansion of existing powers that allow the removal of hate propaganda or child pornography. The new bill would also expand the Canadian no-fly list to allow authorities to ban anyone from flying when they believe that the suspect might be traveling to engage in terrorism. There is an appeal process to be defined. These travel restrictions may lead prospective terrorists to decide that it makes more sense to stay at home and act against soft targets in Canada rather than trying to join a jihad against Assad in Syria for example.

 The opposition Liberal Party appears ready to support the bill. The safety critic Wayne Easter said that Liberals had voted for past anti-terrorism legislation and will support new measures unless they find a "poison pill" in the new bill. Easter said: “If they are reasonable in what they are presenting on the expansion of this legislation, we are reasonable people. If the government is sensible about it, and trying to fight terrorism rather than playing politics, then we will be supportive.” The Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, said he would wait until he had read the bill carefully before he would comment. The Liberals and the official opposition the NDP both opposed the Conservative sponsored mission against the Islamic State in Iraq. The Liberals wanted a more humanitarian-focused mission. However, the Liberals themselves sponsored anti-terror legislation after 9/11 and supported Conservative measures while in opposition. Easter however is pressing for a strong oversight mechanism as the other four members of the "Five Eyes" group have. The five cooperating intelligence services are the US, UK, Australian and New Zealand along with Canada.

 The group is known for circumventing each others domestic laws by the manner in which they share information: Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the FVEY have been spying on one another's citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on domestic spying. So the US can spy on Canadian citizens in Canada and share the information since it might be illegal for Canadians to do it. Canada has a specialized agency for spying CSEC, Communications Security Establishment Canada, that does what NSA does in the US. For some reason the last "C" has now been dropped. The CSE is right next door to the CSIS in the most expensive government building ever erected in Canada: CSEC’s budget has doubled in just the last 10 years. We now spend $350 million in taxpayer dollars every single year on CSEC. Taxpayers are also on the hook for over $4 billion to build and operate a new headquarters for CSEC which the CBC has called a “spy palace” and “the most expensive government building ever built.”

Reaction by the foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, of the official opposition New Democratic Party, was to stress the need for oversight. He agreed with the Conservatives that terrorism was a real threat but that there should be a stronger oversight body along with the increased powers for CSIS: “If you’re expanding (security agencies’) powers, you need commensurate oversight. This government isn't taking present oversight obligations seriously.”

Former Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh perhaps sums up the situation facing the NDP in this remark from his blog: The most muted response from the NDP's Mulcair to the newly unveiled legislation showed the NDP had realised that its position on our Iraq mission was not beneficial to its political fortunes. Mulcair did not wax eloquent about liberties any more. His emphasis was on defending Canadians' safety which needed to be enhanced without curtailing our liberties, he said. Paul Dewar of the NDP focussed mainly on lack of robust oversight and more resources. Thomas Mulcair is the leader of the New Democratic Party. While the NDP is supposedly on the left of the political spectrum in Canada there is nothing "left" about this response. Politicians are usually more concerned about votes than ideology. Canadians appear to fear the threat of terrorism much more than the increasing trend towards more police and spying power. They are quite happy to hand over funds for battling the Islamic State in Iraq and to build a mansion for Canada's spies while restricting many of our freedoms. The politics of fear is trending.