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    The Canadian flag flies at half-mast at the Consulate General of Canada in New York October 23, 2014

    Despite Rising Data Privacy Concerns, Canadians Ignorant of US Spying Abilities

    © AFP 2019 / Timothy A. Clary
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    In the years since NSA contractor turned whistleblower Ed Snowden exposed the US government's massive international internet spying apparatus, and revealed the "Five Eyes" global surveillance partnership, concern about surveillance among Canadian citizens has increased exponentially - but a majority still don't understand the risks.

    ​According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority's Internet Factbook 2017, 76 percent of Canadians are worried about their data's privacy if it's routed via the US, an increase of 12 percent year-on-year. However, the report found only a third of Canadians know their data is routed through the US, and 57 percent were unaware most of Canada's internet infrastructure, including communications beginning and ending in Canada, run through their southern neighbor.

    Most Canadian internet traffic is routed through the US, and as a result is not protected by Canadian privacy regulations (physical internet gateways located in different geographic locations are subject to local laws), and can be snooped on by US spy agencies with impunity.

    Campaigns for "data localization" — the principle citizens' data should be stored in their own country — have been ongoing for a number of years, and the issue is said to be a centrepiece of current NAFTA negotiations.

    The US has repeatedly made clear it favors global data flows, and reportedly sought to remove references to data localization in NAFTA and other major trade deals. The US was also against Canadian data localization during Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, before exiting the agreement process.

    ​As a result, Canadian tech firms have expressed concern negotiators aren't doing enough to protect citizens. One source anonymously suggested to local media Canada's negotiating team was secretly ceding ground to the US on data in exchange for limiting US market access in the dairy and automobile sectors.

    The Canadian Council of Innovators, which represents small- and medium-sized companies, suggested allowing the country's data to effectively reside "across the border" granted the US licence to access and use Canadian data in ways not even the Canadian government or businesses could.

    Mapping Surveillance

    Whatever comes of data localization ambitions in Canada, citizens are easily able to see whether their data is transmitted via the US. In March, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a tool, IXMaps, which shows which internet exchanges their data bounces through, and allows users to determine if the NSA installed listening posts in these buildings.

    ​The launch was accompanied by an open letter from the Commissioner in response to President Donald Trump signing an executive order excluding permanent residents and non-US citizens from the protections under the US Privacy Act.

    "Commissioner Daniel Therrien concluded Canadians have some privacy protection in the United States, but that protection is fragile because it relies primarily on administrative agreements that do not have the force of law. Therefore, the Commissioner has called on Canadian government officials to ask their US counterparts to strengthen privacy protections for Canadians," the letter read.

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    Tags:
    spying scandal, spying, snooping, internet, NSA spying, surveillance, privacy, NAFTA, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Five Eyes, National Security Agency (NSA), Edward Snowden, Canada, United States
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