OTTAWA – Canadian spies are scouring global telephone records and Internet data for patterns of suspicious activity — including those of Canadians — local media reported Monday.
The Globe and Mail said Defense Minister Peter MacKay signed a ministerial directive renewing the program in November 2011, after a lengthy hiatus over concerns that it could lead to warrantless surveillance of Canadians.
MacKay later confirmed its existence in parliament.
The program, operated by the Department of National Defense’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), originated during the Cold War to spy on Soviet states, but its mandate shifted in 2005 amid rising fears of terrorist networks.
CSEC spokesman Ryan Foreman told The Globe and Mail that the national cryptologic agency “incidentally” intercepts Canadian communications.
He stressed the program is primarily used to “isolate and identify foreign communications, as CSEC is prohibited by law from directing its activities at Canadians.”
The report came amid growing controversy over U.S. National Security Agency programs that have swept up a trove of U.S. telephone records and secretly monitor online activity.
The program that targets phone records does not involve the tapping of phones, nor agents listening in to conversations, but instead collects data to be analyzed in complicated mathematical programs.
MacKay spokeswoman Paloma Aguilar said the CSEC “works to keep Canadians secure and it does so knowing strict legislation protects individuals’ right to privacy.”
She noted also that the CSEC’s activities “are reviewed annually and have been found to comply with the law.”
A 2012 report to parliament by the CSEC watchdog notes that privacy concerns have been addressed but does not say how.