A classified document that's among the many secrets revealed by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden "shows that Canada's electronic spy agency used information from the free Internet service at a major Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal," CBC News reports.
The CBC says the document indicates that "the spy service was provided with information captured from unsuspecting travelers' wireless devices by [an unidentified] airport's free Wi-Fi system" over a two-week period in May 2012.
"The document shows the federal intelligence agency was then able to track the travelers for a week or more as they — and their wireless devices — showed up in other Wi-Fi 'hot spots' in cities across Canada and even at U.S. airports," the CBC adds.
The Canadian spy agency tells the CBC that it is "mandated to collect foreign signals intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians. And in order to fulfill that key foreign intelligence role for the country, CSEC is legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata. ... No Canadian communications were (or are) targeted, collected or used."
That explanation is similar to those provided by U.S. officials about the NSA's electronic surveillance programs — basically, that the NSA collects huge amounts of information (metadata) about phone calls and other electronic communications, but does not probe their contents or target those of U.S. citizens.
Canadian cyber-security expert Ronald Deibert tells CBC News, however, that "I can't see any circumstance in which this would not be unlawful, under current Canadian law."
President Obama has said that "critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards," the NSA's surveillance programs "could be used to yield more information about our private lives." But while he has said the NSA should no longer hold on to the massive amounts of data it has been collecting, the president has also said that the information still needs to be gathered and stored by a third party in case it later needs to be analyzed.