Canadian spy agency said to use airport Wi-Fi to track travelers

Canada's spy agency was able to track airport visitors long after they left the terminal using "game-changing" surveillance technology being developed with the help of the NSA, reports CBC News.

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Canada's two largest airports, Toronto and Vancouver, say they have never given information on passengers Wi-Fi use to the CSEC. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Canada's spy agency reportedly used information captured from the free Wi-Fi system at a "major Canadian airport" to track travelers for days after they left the terminal.

The Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was allegedly provided with data captured over a two-week period by the airport's free Internet system from the wireless devices of ordinary airport visitors, reported CBC News on Thursday, citing a document leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The data was then used to track travelers "for a week or more" as their wireless devices showed up at free Wi-Fi hot spots -- including airports, libraries, restaurants, public transit hubs, and more -- across Canada and parts of the US, reported CBC News.

While the document does not explain how the CSEC got its hands on the two-week chunk of data from the airport's Wi-Fi system, CBC News said there are indications a "special source" provided the information voluntarily. Canada's two largest airports, Toronto and Vancouver, say they have never given information on passengers Wi-Fi use to the CSEC, according to CBS News.

In a written statement, the CSEC told CBC News 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." The agency added that, "No Canadian communications were (or are) targeted, collected or used."

The document, a 27-page Powerpoint presentation by the CSEC dated May 2012, indicates that the tracking program was a test run for a "game-changing" new software program the CSEC was developing with the help of the US National Security Agency, reported CBC News. Apparently, the document made it clear that CSEC intended to share the technology, and information gathered by it, with the members of the Five Eye intelligence network -- the US, UK, New Zealand, and Australia.

This CSEC program can be added to an increasingly long, and concerning, list of reported mobile data collection programs run by the NSA and its foreign allies. Just on Monday, reports based on documents provided by Snowden said the NSA and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters have been secretly collecting swaths of personal data about users from so-called leaky apps -- everything from Angry Birds and Google Maps to applications with photo- and location-sharing abilities like Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter.

President Obama announced earlier this month that "work had begun" on reforms to the NSA and that several initial steps had already been taken, including measures to prevent abuse of the bulk phone-records program and moves to create greater privacy protections for citizens of other nations.