A new report in The Intercept revealed that CSEC, Canada’s NSA, spies on Israel’s enemies. But what does that entail? And is it within CSEC’s mandate to do so?
I reached out to Chris Parsons, a prominent cybersecurity and surveillance researcher from Toronto’s Citizen Lab, to discuss CSEC’s role in Israel’s military offensives. He told me there are “at least two ways” that CSEC would be involved in helping out Israel. One of which would be to provide INSU with a tracking program, or specific databases, to help spy on targets and persons of interest, which would have been developed by CSEC. As we learned from the free airport WiFi presentation, which was more about tracking targets as they log into various WiFi access points around the world than it was about surveilling airport travelers in particular, CSEC does have these capabilities in their wheelhouse.
Parsons went on to say that CSEC could also assist Israel by “providing some sort of expertise with how to use databases that are shared out to the Israeli intelligence community.” Simply put, Canada may be giving the Israelis tech support for the spying systems we’re giving them. In terms of whether or not this kind of assistance is within CSEC’s mandate, Parsons told me: “As you’re aware, the Canadian government has identified Hamas as a terrorist organization and as such, it would make sense for CSEC to be engaged in the monitoring of their locations and their electronic systems that Hamas is believed to be using. So in that sense, it should fit within CSEC’s mandated intelligence-gathering.”
But even with Hamas on a designated terror list, the complexities surrounding our Canadian surveillance agency spying on Palestinian targets opens up major issues of privacy; specifically when you consider how a target is selected, and how sure government powers need to be before a person is added to a list of terrorists. As Parsons told me, there is the “very serious question of how exactly individuals are identified as valid targets or not… How many individuals are swept up into the monitoring?”