Critics say a crisis of transparency surrounds modern spying methods in Canada after revelations that a close ally – the U.S. National Security Agency – has been looking at the communications traffic of at least two Canadian corporations.
"There are people from the NSA working inside of CSE as we speak," said NDP defence critic Jack Harris, referring to U.S. intelligence analysts embedded inside the Communications Security Establishment, the NSA's Canadian counterpart.
Mr. Harris said he has many questions about the extent of Canada's close surveillance partnerships with the United States, but Parliamentarians are not authorized to get answers.
"We're reaching a crisis point on this," he said in an interview, pointing out that the Conservative government faces several spying controversies.
The Globe and Mail reported on Tuesday that a leaked NSA document from 2012 includes Royal Bank of Canada and Rogers Communications Inc. on a list of global firms whose private communication networks the U.S. agency appeared to be interested in mapping.
The document – which The Globe obtained from a confidential source – suggests the agency was describing efforts to identify and analyze computer networks controlled by corporations.
Markings on the document, a presentation for intelligence officers, indicate it may have been shared with Ottawa nearly three years ago. Rogers and RBC told The Globe they had no idea the NSA had any interest in their networks, which they insist are secured against intruders.
The NSA has said it will not discuss allegations about its intelligence activities.
There is no indication the NSA went as far as getting at any data inside individual computers or reading communications related to the Canadian companies. However, the presentation suggests the agency went further in using its mapping techniques to look at the computer systems controlled by a Chinese telecom giant.
The name of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. appears in the presentation, and the NSA appears to have had a keen interest in isolating the corporation's data channels. "These links are likely to carry Huawei traffic," reads one slide.
It is not clear whether the mapping techniques were used in concert with even more aggressive measures. Last year, The New York Times and Germany's Der Spiegel reported the NSA accessed Huawei's servers in hopes of monitoring executive e-mails.
China is a frequent intelligence adversary of the United States, while Canada is a trusted ally. The North American neighbours have been conducting mutual spying operations in partnership since 1949.
Over the past decade, however, the NSA and CSE have treated Internet "metadata" – the data trails left by phone and Internet communications – as less private than the contents of the communications themselves.
In light of this, privacy experts have pushed for disclosure about how the joint spying efforts might affect Canadians.
"Are they collecting – in bulk – all internet traffic going in or out of Canada? And is that justifiable?" said David Fraser, a privacy lawyer based in Halifax. "I think most Canadians would say no."
A poll to be released by Amnesty International on Wednesday indicates that 68 per cent of Canadians are opposed to any U.S. government activities involving the interception, storage and analysis of Canadians' data.
Yet, Canada also engages in its own spying campaigns.
Mr. Fraser pointed out that a 2013 leak showed that a Canadian spy agency was looking at data associated with Brazil's Ministry of Mines and Energy. "They were, in great, gruesome detail, mapping out the Brazilian government's network topology and how to exploit that," he said.
A spokesman for Huawei Canada declined to comment on Tuesday, as did representatives for Britain-based Rolls Royce Marine and Rio Tinto. The two British companies were named alongside Rogers and RBC in the document obtained by The Globe. U.S.-based RigNet, which was also named, did not respond to requests seeking comment.