Defence Minister Peter MacKay says Canada’s own secretive online and phone metadata surveillance program is "prohibited" from looking at the information of Canadians and is directed at monitoring foreign threats.
MacKay responded Monday to a Globe and Mail report that stated he had approved a program in 2011 that tracks the data surrounding online activity and phone calls searching for suspicious activity, but not the messages themselves.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair asked MacKay in question period on Monday if the Conservatives were monitoring the phone and email records of Canadians.
The program was initially brought in by the former Liberal government in 2005, but was later put on hiatus over concerns it could lead to warrantless surveillance of Canadians. The Globe reports the program was quietly reinstated on Nov. 21, 2011 after MacKay signed a ministerial directive, which is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, only the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which is an arm of the Department of National Defence, can actually eavesdrop or monitor online communications.
It is believed that the Canadian program is used to monitor metadata both domestically and internationally. That means the CSEC could look at information such as email paths, senders and recipients, IP addresses and phone connections -- data that could help identify potential criminal networks or potential terrorist groups. But actual messages exchanged between individuals in those networks would be off limits unless a warrant was obtained.