There has been a clear undertaking to embolden national security since the death of two Canadian citizens back in October, one of which was in the nation’s capital. While there are obvious milestones, such as 9/11, and more recently, the Boston Marathon bombing and the assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, have given more fuel to anti-terror initiatives. The recently-tabled Bill C-51, known as the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015, is one such initiative.
The legislation, which has the support of the Liberal party and will be opposed, logically, by the NDP as Official Opposition, seeks to give more power to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Much of this will be achieved through broadening and watering-down the definitions of “activity that undermines the security of Canada”, including nine different interpretations in the new legislation. Some are as simple as “terrorism”, while others are far broader, as with “interference with critical infrastructure”. As noted in a Globe and Mail editorial “Anti-terrorism bill will unleash CSIS on a lot more than terrorists”, at its worst this could include such acts as interfering with a pipeline, or participating in activism that disrupts a deemed crucial aspect of infrastructure, or one of the other eight definitions.
For more than a decade now, Canada has expanded its security measures, and watched as our neighbours to the south did so with a vengeance. Developments like this are only a matter of time it would seem, and the fact is that none will likely establish a watershed moment. It’s far more likely that legislation like this, with intentionally vague rhetoric, will slowly advance the power of organizations that merit great public scrutiny. That’s what makes these seemingly small moments so imperative, because they’re not likely to get any bigger, or more sensational or entertaining. The devil is in the details, and even the smallest loophole, for lack of a better term, can be all that is required.
In fact, not long after the attack on Oct. 27 did the national cryptologic agency Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) choose to drop the last part of its name. Now known simply as CSE (as it was prior to the 2007 branding initiative “Federal Identity Program”), the change back is indicative of their wide scope operation, as noted by Christopher Parsons on the Canadaland podcast. Parsons, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and Managing Director of the Telecom Transparency Project, also spoke on CSE’s indirect gathering of Canadian information, explaining that it is considered a by-product of the mass gathering that is aimed at gaining intelligence of activity by possible terrorists.
A key part of this is the use of the term “metadata”, described by Parsons as a “free-floating, free for all for CSE”, and defined more generally as “a set of data that describes and gives information about other data”. Because of that degree of separation, data captured as a part of their regular efforts that happens to be Canadian data is allowed. So while CSE isn’t trying to get data that may contain Canadian citizens, they may very well end up doing so while harvesting huge amounts of the conveniently-natured metadata.
At times like these it really just comes down to responsibility. Paying attention to your government will likely not be all that exciting , but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Like a total inverse of Rob Ford’s 15 minutes of international fame, the most important things will be the least entertaining, like the subtle wording of anti-terror legislation and how greatly it could affect the country you call home.