Canadian Spy Agency Tracking Users Of Free WiFi At Airports, Hotels, Coffee Shops & Libraries

from the free-wifi dept

A few years ago, we wrote about why, for many years, whenever you were in a public place like an airport or a hotel, you'd often see an available WiFi option called Free Public WiFi -- though if you looked carefully, it was an ad hoc (computer-to-computer) network, rather than to a WiFi access point. It turns out that it was because of a stupid bug in Windows XP, which also explains why it's a lot less common these days. Of course, some people always would joke that it was really spy agencies trying to get you to connect to their WiFi. Except, that might not be that much of a joke. The latest reporting on Snowden documents from Glenn Greenwald, in association with some reporters from the CBC, reveals that the Canadian equivalent of the NSA, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been tracking people as they connect to WiFi networks in a variety of public places including airports, hotels, coffee shops and libraries. The main focus appears to be on airports, but then they use that data to create a map of information about where someone goes.

Just two months ago, the head of the CSEC, John Foster, insisted that the CSEC does not spy on anyone in Canada:
“I can’t comment in detail on the intelligence operations or capabilities of ourselves or our allies. What I can tell you is that CSEC, under its legislation, cannot target Canadians anywhere in the world or anyone in Canada, including visitors to Canada.”
And yet, as this report shows, they absolutely are collecting tons of data on Canadians and visitors to Canada. And not just a few. The document shows that in a test that "swept a modest size city," they collected information on over 300,000 people. Also, they can then use that information to track where a person goes, creating profiles over time. The document reveals that they're just testing this capability (which was created in coordination with the NSA), but it indicates the plan is for all of the "Five Eyes" countries to use a similar system -- though the reporters say they've been told the system is now fully operational, and not just in test mode.

It's not clear from the document exactly how the CSEC is able to get this data. The CBC report questions a few potential sources, such as key airports and Boingo (the company that supplies WiFi to many public hotspots) and both deny providing the information. The Boingo denial seems reasonable, since in the presentation it actually indicates that they have trouble getting information on users on Boingo's network.

The reporters spoke to multiple experts who all say that there's no possible way that this effort is legal under Canadian law. After all, as Foster himself stated above, the CSEC cannot target anyone on Canadian soil, but they clearly do. The article even quotes Ontario's privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian who seems horrified by this revelation:
Ontario's privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian says she is "blown away" by the revelations.

"It is really unbelievable that CSEC would engage in that kind of surveillance of Canadians. Of us.

"I mean that could have been me at the airport walking around… This resembles the activities of a totalitarian state, not a free and open society."
For all the wonders of free WiFi, there's one more downside to keep in mind. If you're using it, you're almost certainly being tracked by a spy agency.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Jan 31st, 2014 @ 9:36am

    Today's spying overreach excuse is brought to you by the word 'Targeted'

    Pretty obvious they've been sharing the NSA's excuse-book, and will almost certainly respond with the claim that if they don't specifically 'target' citizens of the country, but rather just grab everything, then that means they haven't been lying when they claimed that they weren't spying on canadian citizens.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Ninja (profile), Jan 31st, 2014 @ 9:48am

      Re: Today's spying overreach excuse is brought to you by the word 'Targeted'

      Actually it is a targeted data collection. The target is set to "The Milky Way residents" at the moment (although expanding the range to the entire universe minus dark matter parts is being considered).

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Jan 31st, 2014 @ 9:46am

    you'd often see an available WiFi option called Free Public WiFi -- though if you looked carefully, it was an ad hoc (computer-to-computer) network, rather than to a WiFi access point. It turns out that it was because of a stupid bug in Windows XP

    Actually those were a conspiracy from the evil pirates by using pirate-boxes in such fashion so they will kill all creative work in the world while freeloading (or grifting, I'm not sure what these words mean to those people) on the works of others. And behind it all is the masters of evils Google. /herpderp

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:15am

    It appears the Canadian Government, is full of liars too.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:15am

    "you're almost certainly being tracked by a spy agency." such as... Google!

    "Google is beta-testing a program that tracks users’ purchasing habits by registering brick-and-mortar store visits via smartphones,"

    http://www.businessinsider.com.au/google-testing-retail-tracking-program-2013-11

    Where Mike sez: "Any system that involves spying on the activities of users is going to be a non-starter. Creeping the hell out of people isn't a way of encouraging them to buy. It's a way of encouraging them to want nothing to do with you." -- So why doesn't that apply to The Google? (61 of 193)

    When you think surveillance or spying or snooping or censoring or pushing propaganda, think Google! (57 of 193)

    06:14:16[h-197-7]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    jackn3, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:22am

    bi isn't an authoritative source. Now I see where your idiocy comes from.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:24am

    There is a definite trend in these leaks, spy agencies are finding it easier to spy on citizens of their own country. Might it be due to the fact t is obviously much easier to deploy and access technology in their own country?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    pegr, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:25am

    Having a hard time getting worked up over this one

    They are likely just tracking wireless MAC addresses. It's something anyone could do, so I'm having a hard time being too concerned with it. If you voluntarily throw your MAC address in the air for everyone to see, that's your fault.

    Don't want your MAC address to be tracked? Change it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      jackn3, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:46am

      Re: Having a hard time getting worked up over this one

      Couldn't they just track your changed mac address?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        pegr, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 11:31am

        Re: Re: Having a hard time getting worked up over this one

        Absolutely. So change it again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

        If you're really serious, have it change automagically to a random value at every boot.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          John Fenderson (profile), Jan 31st, 2014 @ 12:31pm

          Re: Re: Re: Having a hard time getting worked up over this one

          Not on every boot, but periodically. Oddly enough, this is exactly what the secure laptops my company provides do.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:56am

      Re: Having a hard time getting worked up over this one

      I'm having a hard time being too concerned with it.

      The fact that an agency that should NOT be spying on its own countries citizens but is should be a cause for concern. It they can get away with this, what else are they doing, and what will they do in the future because they can get away with it?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      John Fenderson (profile), Jan 31st, 2014 @ 12:30pm

      Re: Having a hard time getting worked up over this one

      Not only is it something anyone can do, a lot of retailers currently do it and have been for some time now.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:41am

    Why does it looks like if the NSA was behind everything?
    I mean they started doing this and they could force other countries to help them with these.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 10:50am

    CSEC? Isn't that the police force in mass effect?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    sorrykb (profile), Jan 31st, 2014 @ 11:05am

    CSEC's "under this legislation" = NSA's "under this program"

    What I can tell you is that CSEC, under its legislation, cannot target Canadians anywhere in the world or anyone in Canada, including visitors to Canada.


    The above statement must be the least untruthful answer John Foster could provide.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Baldaur Regis (profile), Jan 31st, 2014 @ 11:49am

    "I mean that could have been me at the airport walking around… This resembles the activities of a totalitarian state, not a free and open society." -Ontario's privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian
    Pshaw. If airports were really totalitarian, the fucking airlines would run on time.

    Also, it's common knowledge the "Five Eyes" members are all infected with STD (Surveillance Technology Disorder). Shoulda used a rubber, Canada.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 12:03pm

    so yet another conservative government strikes at the people and at democracy! what is it with these people? as soon as they get elected into office, everything they supposedly stood for, everything they promised goes out the window quicker than an honest politician!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    TheCoffice (profile), Jan 31st, 2014 @ 1:53pm

    There's an app for that!

    So...congrats to Canada's intelligence community. They've discovered Foursquare, Banjo, StreamedIn, Badoo and all the endless supply of other apps that reveal your location if your mobile device is configured that way. Welcome to 2014.

    Is this an over-simplification or did I miss something in the story? It's not that difficult to record someone's position these days.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    CanadianByChoice, Jan 31st, 2014 @ 4:31pm

    But they DIDN'T lie

    Bulk colleciton isn't targeted. That statment did not say they didn't spy us, just that they don't target us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    NSA = (Gestapo+Stasi+KGB)squared, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 5:47am

    Non-denial

    What I can tell you is that CSEC, under its legislation, cannot target Canadians anywhere in the world or anyone in Canada, including visitors to Canada.

    That's not even a denial. He's just repeating what the law says. It's like the murderer answering "I, under our legislation, cannot kill people", when asked if he killed the victim.

    A real denial would've been something like: "What I can tell you is that CSEC hasn't targeted and isn't targeting Canadians..."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This