The CBC, somewhat breathlessly, reports that “Five months after a Radio-Canada/CBC investigation revealed that the country’s major mobile networks are vulnerable to hacking and fraud, documents obtained through Access to Information show that the agency responsible for the security of the federal government’s networks withheld some information from the public at the time.” That agency responsible for government network security is, of course, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and it appears, when one digs through the CBC’s self congratulatory dross that the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development reminded CSE that an government-industry working group looking at vulnerabilities of some mobile communications systems has an agreement in place that restricts the release of public information about its work ~ because the release of such information might have an effect on markets.
But it brings up a flaw in our ~ by and large very properly liberal ~ Access to Information laws. Some information is, equally very properly, more than just SECRET and some agencies, and CSE is the main one, ought to NEVER be asked anything by anybody, including the CBC and even members of parliament, except through the Privy Council Office.
The notion of access to information is not just a good idea, it is essential to a properly functioning liberal democracy … but like everything, like even our fundamental rights life, liberty, property and privacy, our right to information is constrained, and it ought to be. Our intelligence services and the work they do should be completely exempt from public (not parliamentary) scrutiny. The media have neither a need nor a right to know anything much about CSE because it it, to be blunt, none of my business or yours … it is a part of the “nation’s business’ that we must entrust to a very few people, a small handful of officials and an even smaller handful of elected politicians ~ from government and the oppositions parties.
The sort of intelligence that CSE gathers is, in itself, a bit scary; the way it works bothers a few people who value civil liberties above all else and the fact that CSE is part of an allied network that shares such intelligence is shocking to a few. But the people who are really, Really, REALLY frightened of CSE are those who would use the networks ~ physical (landline) and electromagnetic ~ to plot terror and mayhem. The kind of intelligence that CSE and its partners gather and share amongst themselves identifies terrorist leaders so that they can be killed and allows us to strike deep into hostile territory to destroy chemical weapon plants and ammunition dumps and terrorist headquarters … it even allows allied agents to penetrate secure hostile networks and plant viruses that can, for example, set nuclear programmes back by years. This is the kind of thing that, one presumes, the CBC wants to make public.
The fact that some journalists and members of parliament think that their “private” mobile phones are, somehow, immune to intercept, hacking or other illegal activities troubles me … your an my mobile phone is not secure, it is not private ~ anyone who wants to can listen to and record and analyze every word you and I might say and every button we press. The laws of the land (specifically the Radiocommunications Act) says that it is illegal to do that but the laws of physics say that it is just too easy. Doesn’t anyone remember when Prince Charles was horribly embarrassed for being stupid when (in 1989) talking on his phone? Nothing much has changed … there are some secure mobile phones but only a tiny handful of people have them, and, of course, one is only as secure as is the person to whom you are speaking.
That public networks can be hacked ought not to surprise anyone; nor should anyone be surprised that the equipment manufacturers and mobile service providers (phone companies) are working, in confidence (to protect their own commercial and interests and your interests, too, by not telling hackers what steps they are taking), to make their devices and networks a little bit harder to hack. But there will always be a trade-off between privacy (security) on one hand and convenience (ease of use) and cost on the other.
The CBC is trying to be another self licking ice cream cone by retelling its own story, which was much ado about nothing the first time around.