Representatives of Canada’s electronic surveillance agency and national police force were called before a Commons committee Tuesday to tell politicians all they know about threats posted by online hacker group Anonymous against Public Safety minister Vic Toews.
And the answer is: Not much.
Toni Moffa, the assistant deputy minister who is responsible for technical security at the Communications Security Establishment, seemed genuinely confused by the questions being put to her and had to repeatedly explain that threats posted to public Internet sites are outside the jurisdiction of her organization.
And, while Chief Superintendant James Malizia of the RCMP agreed his organization was looking into the activities of Anonymous as they relate to Mr. Toews, he made it clear he could not discuss the details of the investigation.
The matter was referred to the House affairs committee by Speaker Andrew Scheer, who ruled that Mr. Toews’s privileges as a parliamentarian may have been breached by Anonymous – a loose network of international protesters who, in this case, objected to controversial online-surveillance legislation introduced by the minister.
Some of the opposition MPs on the committee have previously expressed concern their inquiry is hampered by the fact Anonymous is anonymous. When they asked how they should get around that problem, Mr. Toews – who testified last week – suggested that they should call in the experts.
But the testimony of those experts Tuesday merely bolstered the notion that the committee’s efforts are, in many ways, futile.
As Ms. Moffa told the committee, CSE collects foreign intelligence signals and provides assurances to the government that federal computer systems are secure. But when asked by Conservative MP Harold Albrecht to explain what she knows about Anonymous, how it operates and what threats the group may pose, Ms. Moffa was at a loss.
Anything CSE knows about Anonymous comes from “open sources,” she said. And “from our perspective, it’s not an [information technology]security breach and it would be best dealt with by an investigative body or agency that would do that type of investigation.”
But the investigators were not much more informative.
Supt. Malizia confirmed it is public knowledge that there is an ongoing investigation. But, in response to any question about the case of Anonymous and Mr. Toews, he said: “I am not in a position to discuss any details or specifics with respect to any ongoing investigation.”
The most important information provided to MPs on the committee by CSE and the RCMP was that they should follow good Internet security protocols and, if they are ever threatened, they should inform the authorities – none of which will get them very far in their current inquiry.
Toward the end of the committee meeting, which finished early because the MPs had nothing more to ask their witnesses and their witnesses had nothing more to tell them, Conservative MP Laurie Hawn conceded it is unlikely that the identities of the people behind the Anonymous threats will ever be revealed.
Searching for ways to make the committee’s inquiry relevant, Mr. Hawn asked Supt. Malizia if he thought the process was worthwhile in reminding Internet users that posting threats against parliamentarians is a crime. “Has this process been useful at least in that respect?” he asked the police officer.
“Well, I am not in a position to comment on the committee’s work and the process,” Supt. Malizia replied, “but I can say is that advances in technology have created an environment where individuals achieve anonymity.”