By David Ljunggren
Canada’s electronic spy agency has been intercepting and analyzing data on up to 15 million file downloads a day as part of a global surveillance program, according to a report published on Wednesday.
The covert surveillance dragnet, nicknamed Levitation, has included allied countries and trading partners such as the United States, Britain, Brazil, Germany, Spain and Portugal, the report by CBC News and journalist Glenn Greenwald said.
The spying initiative was revealed in 2012 documents obtained by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is the first revelation from the Snowden files to show Canada has launched its own mass, globe-spanning Internet surveillance.
CBC said the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) surveillance program has netted the agency 350 “interesting download events” each month.
CSE is a secretive body, which like the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitors electronic communication and helps protect national computer networks. It is not allowed to target Canadians or Canadian corporations.
Among its top hauls, the eavesdropping program has discovered a German hostage video and an uploaded document that revealed the hostage strategy of an al-Qaeda wing in North Africa, the CBC said.
The Snowden documents show the agency has sifted through 10 million to 15 million uploads a day of videos, music documents and other files hosted by 102 file-sharing websites.
Canada is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network along with the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
The documents are likely to prompt more questions about CSE, which has in the past faced allegations it has improperly intercepted Canadians’ phone calls and emails.
In a statement, the OpenMedia.ca lobby group said “CSE is clearly spying on the private online activities of millions of innocent people, including Canadians, despite repeated government assurances to the contrary”.
In November 2013, the CBC cited other Snowden documents that it said showed Canada had allowed the NSA to conduct widespread surveillance during the 2010 Group of 20 summit in Toronto.
Last August, a government watchdog said CSE should tighten up its procedures for handling the private calls and emails it intercepts.
The office of Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, who has overall responsibility for CSE, referred queries to the agency. CSE was not immediately available for comment.