(Illustration by Chloe Cushman for the Guardian)
The information disclosed by the former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden, shows that Canada’s electronic spy agency monitors file downloads all around the world.
According to a joint report by CBC News and journalist Glenn Greenwald released on Wednesday, Canada's Communications Security Establishment (CSE) tracks and analyzes up to 15 million pictures, videos, music documents and other files downloaded by the Internet users across the globe on a daily basis.
The CSE’s spying project called Leviathan tracks downloads from over 102 file-sharing websites, including such renowned sources as Rapidsahre, Sendspace, and the now deactivated Megaupload.
"It's really the first time that a story has been reported that involves [CSE] as the lead agency in a program of pure mass surveillance," said Greenwald, who also played a key role in publicizing Snowden’s controversial information.
Analysts confirmed the validity and legitimacy of Greenwald’s report.
"Every single thing that you do — in this case uploading/downloading files to these sites — that act is being archived, collected and analyzed," said Ron Deibert, an Internet security analyst, after observing Snowden’s files on Canada’s cyber-sleuthing program.
The CSE, for its part, defended Leviathan, claiming it is aimed at tracking suspicious activities related to terrorism and extremism.
"CSE is clearly mandated to collect foreign signals intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians from a variety of threats to our national security, including terrorism," said the agency's spokesman Andrew McLaughlin in an email to CBC News.
Canada is a member of the intelligence-sharing network “Five Eyes” (FVEY) along with the US, UK, New Zealand, and Australia.
Snowden’s revelations showed that even the FVEY members engaged in spying on one another's citizens.
The issues of digital surveillance and privacy protection have been in the limelight since Snowden began leaking classified intelligence documents in June 2013. He revealed that the NSA had been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans and foreign nationals as well as political leaders around the world.
Snowden’s leaks were mainly about the huge electronic surveillance programs by the NSA and its allies all around the world.
Following Snowden’s revelations, tech companies opted for encrypting their services to block government surveillance.
Moreover, many countries, including Germany and Russia, turned to paper communications in a bid to avoid detection. Other countries intensified their own surveillance programs to outflank the US one or decided to monitor the activities of the US tech companies operating in their territories.