[an error occurred while processing this directive] FactsCanada.ca -- Friday Feature 2000-05Fr -- CSIS -- Canadian Security Intelligence Service -- Part Three
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CSIS -- Canadian Security Intelligence Service -- Part Three.

September 22, 2000.

This week we are back to the CSIS series after taking a break from it for the last couple of weeks. We also have some good news about our Web site, but you can read that at the end after Mike's story.


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CSIS -- Canadian Security Intelligence Service -- Part Three
By Michael Hora (mike@factscanada.com)


Most security services that inhabit the nebulous world of spydom, CSIS included, are finding themselves having to intercept covert data now being shipped via electronic systems that were unheard of just a decade ago. The computer age has heralded the transfer of information that has aided the criminal element in their nefarious schemes. Vast amounts of data are there for the picking and, by the looks of it, if you have the tools the pickings are good. There doesn't seem to be a day going by which doesn't have the press dutifully reporting a story or two about somebody's life savings being bilked by a computer con-man, or an investor losing it all through the machinations of some evil genius' clever keyboarding, or the like. Without the necessary tools being placed at their disposal, the forces of law and order have been relegated to the role of playing catch-up. The Canadian government and its various arms of enforcement are not happy with being passive observers to this trend and would very much like to be proactive rather than reactive. Hence, the race to encrypt and decrypt electronic messaging has begun in earnest. The battle is not only related to the domestic front either; international concerns are also on the radar.

Modern computing has brought with it, with the strokes of a few keys, the ability to encode information in such a manner as to defy all but the most powerful programs run on the newest and most advanced machines. As very few law agencies have or can even afford to entertain the idea of employing these types of computers, the pressure to regulate, through the legislative arms of society, is growing at the behest of enforcement groups. This in turn leads to reactionary forces being set up to combat the trend. Although the following is a case scenario that is developing to the south of us, it stands to reason that, although this is an American initiative, chances are that our federal forces are more than interested in it. All things American generally filter north, remember. The case in point is the creation of the Carnivore program and the reaction of the American Civil Liberties Union to its deployment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Carnivore is nothing new when taken in the context of what it is trying to do. Essentially it is a program that has been developed which allows its users to intercept and read anyone's e-mail. The FBI has stated its case, in conjunction with the Federal Department of Justice in the US, as to why it needs the extraordinary power to observe some citizen's correspondence. The FBI feels that there is subversion afoot, and that by being able to monitor e-mail transmissions they stand a better chance of nipping it in the bud. In Carnivore's case, the program runs somewhat similar to a search program that focuses on key words. With Carnivore, these key words are, "to" and "from". In a submission to a congressional committee the FBI has stated that the program would only be used to monitor those people who have proven themselves to be on the wrong side of the law, at one time or another. In other words, as they maintain, they would use known criminals' names as their key words to set the cyber hounds out of their kennels. At no time, goes their submission, would they consider using it to go after the average citizen just to go on a fishing expedition. The monitoring would take place at the Internet Service Provider level and would only include the tracking and storage of "pertinent" data. All other data would be dumped, claims the FBI. This has raised the ire of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) in Washington, DC. They are concerned over the looseness of these agencies' wordings and want the definitions of words such as, "pertinent" nailed down.

Dave Sobel, general counsel for EPIC, has fundamental concerns with the FBI position and has won a small victory that could lead the way to constraining the use of the program. A US district court judge has given the FBI an order to produce its records on both the use of Carnivore and the details on just how Carnivore works.

At present, the Carnivore software can only be unleashed at the issuance of a court order. The White House has asked Congress to update privacy laws so that the same legal protections covering telephone wiretapping are extended to e-mail and other electronic data transfer mechanisms. Under current laws, if the program is going to be used to monitor the actual content of a person 's e-mail, a court order has to be obtained through the approval of a US Federal Court judge. The court may grant such a request if asked to do so by a Justice Department official. And, not just any old official will do; it must be a high level US Department of Justice official. The US Department of Justice just happens to be the one appearing before the Congress presently defending its deployment of Carnivore and attesting to their good intentions. In the American model, both their judiciary and their enforcement arms answer to the same boss; Janet Reno. The ACLU is alarmed.

CSIS also wants some new powers but is being stymied by the North American Free Trade pact. Provisions within it are blocking their perceived need to intercept data that is originating elsewhere, broadcast to Canada (via satellite, for example), and then being redirected to the USA over land lines or the like. An example of this could be something as innocuous as a BBC television program being beamed up to a Canadian Anik satellite from a London studio that is then redirected to an earth station in Toronto, and then sent to Buffalo over a cable system so the good people there can enjoy, let's say, "Coronation Street". The Canadian and/or the American spy agencies, suspicious over the content of this television program and wanting to intercept the signal and maintain a decryption device on it to check for subversive content, are not allowed to do so. No can do, according to the NAFTA. Ditto for the CIA, the FBI, and the NIA. Information and entertainment content is allowed free and unfettered access. Telephone calls from overseas are also accorded this same right of passage.

So where does this leave the agencies? They seem to have a card up their collective sleeves. Through their contacts in both the Canadian and American legislatures, the spy groups have demanded the right to have the source provide them with the encryption keys of all new data transfer systems prior to them being licenced for sale in either country. What this boils down to is a scenario such as this example. Let's say Corel of Ottawa comes up with a new program that they wish to sell to banking groups. The main selling point of this software is the fact that it has a new encryption code that is unbreakable. The banking people they are targeting are very interested in it as they want to be able to tell their customers that their money is as safe and secure as it can possibly be. Bankers and their clients, who don't really like to have their cash absconded with by third party groups, are very interested in this new high-tech arrangement. So are the security groups -- they want to be able to scrutinize the transfer of funds. They may suspect it is from the proceeds of crime or is destined to enable the transferee to buy explosives with which an embassy will be bombed. However, they can't break the code. The encryption is that good. So what do they do? They lobby their elected representatives to have the sale of these programs deemed illegal. The logic they are employing is this: The programs are contrary to national security interests and they want a law made to deal with it. They want these programs sold with the key being made available to the groups that are burdened with the task of defending their countries from hostile foreign interests and both domestic and international criminal elements. National security interests are immune from free trade provisions. In a way it is like a hardware company selling you a security system and then providing both you and your local police department with the key to your door after the police complain they don't have the means to jimmy it.

Stay tuned. There's more next time.


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Having dealt with setting up our mailing lists, Craig has turned his attention to the FactsCanada Web site. While there is still nothing much to see there right now, we will have all past issues of our newsletters posted on the Web by October 2nd. There will be a bit of trial and error while we figure out the best system to archive everything so that it is easily and quickly accessible, but you probably won't even notice. There will also be a form on the site which you will be able to use for subscription updates. If you have any comments, criticisms or suggestions regarding the Web site, please let Craig know at craig@factscanada.com.


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