MPs consider contempt charges for Canadian company linked to Cambridge Analytica after raucous committee meeting

Aggregate IQ executives came to answer questions before a Canadian parliamentary committee. Then they had the misfortune of dealing with a well-connected British Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham:

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, MPs pressed Silvester and Massingham on their company’s work during the Brexit referendum, for which they are currently under investigation in the UK over possible violations of campaign spending limits. Under questioning from Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Silvester and Massingham insisted they had fully cooperated with the UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham. But as another committee member, Liberal MP Frank Baylis, took over the questioning, Erskine-Smith received a text message on his phone from Denham which contradicted the pair’s testimony.

Erskine-Smith handed his phone to Baylis, who read the text aloud.  “AIQ refused to answer her specific questions relating to data usage during the referendum campaign, to the point that the UK is considering taking further legal action to secure the information she needs,” Denham’s message said.

Silvester replied that he had been truthful in all his answers and said he would be keen to follow up with Denham if she had more questions.

It’s definitely a bold move to inform parliamentarians, operating in a friendly but foreign jurisdiction, that they’re being misled by one of their witnesses. So long as such communications don’t overstep boundaries — such as enabling a government official to engage in a public witchhunt of a given person or group — these sorts of communications seem essential when dealing with groups which have spread themselves across multiple jurisdictions and are demonstrably behaving untruthfully.


Rampant telecom surveillance conducted with little transparency, oversight

Rampant telecom surveillance conducted with little transparency, oversight:

Canadian telecommunications providers have been handing over vast amounts of customer information to law enforcement and government departments and agencies with little transparency or oversight, a new report says.

“We conclude that serious failures in transparency and accountability indicate that corporations are failing to manage Canadians’ personal information responsibly,” says the report released by Citizen Lab today that examines how Canadian telecommunications data is monitored, collected and analyzed by groups such as police, intelligence and government agencies.

The report also criticizes the government’s “irresponsibility surrounding accountability” with respect to telecommunications surveillance. It warns that that could endanger the development of Canada’s digital economy and breed cynicism among citizens.

“Access to our private communications is incredibly sensitive,” said Christopher Parsons, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Citizen Lab, which conducts research on information technology in the context of human rights and global security.

The report, funded by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, showed Canadians recognize this and are very concerned.

But despite that, evidence suggests governments and law enforcement have been demanding millions of subscriber records from telecom firms in recent years.

“It raises real questions about the appropriateness of the powers or perhaps the appropriateness of the mandates or aggressiveness of the agencies that currently look to keep Canadians safe,” Parsons said.

Outdated laws

He noted there’s no way to know what the requests were about, how many there were or whether any one person’s data was requested, as Canadian law doesn’t require police to record or report any of that information.

Outdated laws require government departments and agencies to report telecommunications interceptions, but not access to stored communications such as emails and text messages, nor “non-sensitive” information such as records of calls dialed and received.

The Canada Border Services Agency is one of the few government departments that tracks such requests. In 2012 and 2013, it made 18,849 requests for telecommunications information. None were interceptions, the study found.

“That really indicates that the interception reports, while they’re very rigorous, they’re such a limited data set that they really don’t explain to parliamentarians or the public the extent or kind of surveillance that are commonplace in Canada today,” Parsons said.

A Supreme Court decision last year has forced police to start getting a warrant before requesting subscriber information from telecoms. While that has slashed the number of police requests for data, Parsons warns that new legislation that is currently before the Senate could make it easy for telecom data to be shared among police and government agencies.

New bill a concern

Bill C-51 would allow, for example, the Canada Revenue Agency to request information about a telecom customer related to a tax issue, then pass it on to the CBSA, RCMP or CSIS to probe something only marginally related, Parsons said.

Meanwhile, oversight bodies such as the privacy commissioner of Canada have no way to share information with other oversight bodies, such as the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which oversees CSIS.

And while the privacy commssioner can go to court to force private companies to comply with Canadian privacy laws, it can’t do that with government departments or agencies under the Privacy Act, Parsons said.

Another concern cited in the report is that governments and telecommunications companies have spent the past decade or so negotiating behind closed doors about technology to allow interceptions and the types of interceptions that should be mandated into law.

“I think that’s incredibly inappropriate,” Parsons said. Such interceptions are “something that we just need to do in contemporary law and order environment, but doesn’t have to take place in secretive back rooms.” He believes discussions about it should involve the public.

The report offers a long list of recommendations for corporations and government as to how they can become more transparent and accountable about telecommunications surveillance.

For example, Parsons hopes that Canadian telecommunications companies, which have just started releasing transparency reports about requests for customer data, will begin to issue more standardized and detailed reports as they do in the U.S.

He added, “I think we’re absolutely behind.”


Stubborn negatives undermine Tories’ shot at another majority

Den Tandt writes:

While I’d like to agree that the current governing party of Canada’s anti-democratic approaches should cost it seats, if not the election, I have strong doubts. I often speak with Canadians (of various political stripes)  and ask whether they want decisive action (demonstrated in the form of the current government’s omnibus legislation) or a more drawn out periods of action as parties communicate to develop some kind of quasi-consensus on issues (often as characterized in a minority government situation). Save for the extremely rare person, most state a preference for decisiveness and regard omnibus legislation as efficient. The rationale is almost always that ‘government should be doing things, not stuck just talking for a long time and wasting taxpayer monies’.

Personally, I find such responses extremely depressing. But if my anecdotal conversations have any resonance with the broader Canadian public then I’d be doubtful that ‘anti-democratic’ approaches to governance will be what relieves the current governing party from power. Scandal, perhaps, but I don’t even think the Duffy affair is sufficiently scandalous to cost the government too much.


There is a notable distinction between forms of privatization of military and bureaucratic state functions and examples of Internet governance privatization. Whereas the outsourcing of law enforcement functions or bureaucratic tasks normally involves financial compensation to the private entity delegated these functions, a unique feature in Internet governance is the expectation that some private entities, whether information intermediaries, or financial and transactional intermediaries, should be compelled to carry out law enforcement functions traditionally performed by the state without compensation and often with additional expense and possibly even liability exposure.

* Laura DeNardis. The Global War for Internet Governance.

Canada’s electronic spy agency uncovers wrongdoing, ethics breaches

My money is that in terms of misuse, facilities were being used to store, access, or download copyright infringing materials. And, in terms of asset misuse, I have at least one very good idea what that might have encompassed…

Source: Canada’s electronic spy agency uncovers wrongdoing, ethics breaches


In sudden announcement, US to give up control of DNS root zone

This is incredibly huge news. However, given the incredible influence of the Government Advisor Council and relative denigration of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency the shift to multistakeholder governance is going to be fraught with sweet words to distract people from the real politik that has largely consumed Internet governance.


Reality turned out to be much more complicated. What we forgot is that technology magnifies power in both directions. When the powerless found the Internet, suddenly they had power. But while the unorganized and nimble were the first to make use of the new technologies, eventually the powerful behemoths woke up to the potential – and they have more power to magnify. And not only does the Internet change power balances, but the powerful can also change the Internet. Does anyone else remember how incompetent the FBI was at investigating Internet crimes in the early 1990s? Or how Internet users ran rings around China’s censors and Middle Eastern secret police? Or how digital cash was going to make government currencies obsolete, and Internet organizing was going to make political parties obsolete? Now all that feels like ancient history.

* Bruce Schneier, “Power and the Internet

The totalizers would happily follow Johnson in seeking answers to questions such as “So what does the Internet want?”—as if the Internet were a living thing with its own agenda and its own rights. Cue a recent Al Jazeera column: “The internet is not territory to be conquered, but life to be preserved and allowed to evolve freely. … From understanding the internet as a life form that is in part human, it follows that the internet itself has rights.”13 That is the kind of crazy talk to be avoided. The particularizers would not invoke “the Internet” to embark on a quixotic attempt to re-make democratic politics; but the totalizers, in their quasi-religious belief, would do so gladly.

A good account of the Internet would never need to mention that dreadful word at all. This stringent requirement might uproot most of our Internet thinkers from the plateau of banal and erroneous generalizations where they have resided for the last two decades; after all, it is the very notion of “the Internet” that has allowed them to stay there for so long. Now that Internet-centrism is not just a style of thought but also an excuse for a naïve and damaging political ideology, the costs of letting its corrosive influence go unnoticed have become too high.


Privacy is not simply an individual right or civil liberty; it is a vital component of the social contract between Canadians and their government. Without privacy, without protective boundaries between government and citizens, trust begins to erode. Good governance requires mutual trust between state and citizen. Otherwise, alienation and a sense of inequality begin to spread, circumstances under which no program for public scrutiny can be tenable or effective in the long term. Where citizen trust hits a low point, in fact, such security measures may be undermined, ignored, circumvented – or in the most egregious cases – passively or actively resisted.

* Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, “A Matter of Trust: Integrating Privacy and Public Safety in the 21st Century