Canada taps Internet cables to track downloads

Canada’s top surveillance agency has been tapping into Internet cables to collect vast troves of upload and download data from popular file-sharing websites, The Intercept and CBC News reported.

The program, known as Levitation, indiscriminately sucks up and analyzes the records of up to 15 million downloads each day. The surveillance spans North America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.


The Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s equivalent of the National Security Agency, oversees the program.

The revelation comes from the cache of documents disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Thus far, the documents have mainly exposed widespread secret spying programs in the U.S. and U.K.

But the newly published PowerPoint presentation from 2012 shows the Canadian government is overseeing similar programs.

According to the presentation, Levitation collects information from 102 cyberlocker sites, like SendSpace and RapidShare, an online service for file-storing and file-sharing. The program tracks between 10 million and 15 million “events” each day on these sites, filtering out about 350 each month for further inspection.

It doesn’t appear the cyberlocker sites were cooperating with the government on the program.

The presentation lists suspicious downloads the CSE had monitored in the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Brazil, Germany and other closely allied countries.

Notably, Levitation collects the IP address — the number assigned to a device when connected to the Internet — for each computer uploading or downloading content on these sites. That allows the CSE to cross-reference an IP address with other databases to locate the user’s Facebook page, Google account and browsing history.

In the U.S., similar disclosures have created significant backlash against the government, with major tech companies adopting encryption to keep officials and even law enforcement from accessing their products.

Congress tried to move a bill to curb certain NSA surveillance authorities, but it died late last year during the lame-duck session.