‘Project Wide Awake’ files obtained by The Tyee show efforts to secretly buy and use powerful surveillance tools while downplaying capabilities.
The Tyee cracks open 3,000 pages of RCMP documents released via a freedom of information request.
The emails and documents pertain to the RCMP’s Tactical Internet Operation Support unit based at the national headquarters in Ottawa and its advanced web monitoring program called Project Wide Awake.
In seeking contract renewals and wider capabilities, the RCMP claimed its spying produced successful results, including finding online a “direct threat” to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
RCMP referred to its programs as social media surveillance internally while distancing itself from the term in external communications.
The Tyee first in March 2019 the existence of Project Wide Awake which experts said could pose a threat to Canadians’ privacy and charter rights, and the same month filed a freedom of information request to the RCMP to find out more. The release of the files took a year and a half, following a complaint to the watchdog federal Office of the Information Commissioner. This is the first of more Tyee articles to come based on what we received.
As Canada’s commissioner of federal policing, Gilles Michaud sought to have the purchase of Babel X or similar software kept secret as a ‘national security exception.’
Gilles Michaud, then commissioner of federal policing, made the argument while requesting a “national security exception” which would remove the buy from public procurement procedures.
RCMP cloaking of Project Wide Awake contributes to ‘a public crisis around police accountability,’ says Brenda McPhail of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Kate Robertson, a criminal defence lawyer and researcher at University of Toronto’s internet security-focused Citizen Lab agrees.
The RCMP’s Project Wide Awake logo on training materials.
McPhail found troubling the documents reflect an RCMP view that any communication on the internet can be assumed fair game for surveillance because it’s already in a public realm. “It’s one thing to understand that an individual will see your passing communication, and quite another thing to assume that everything you’ve ever written will be subjected to an analysis by the state.”
Tier 3 operations by the RCMP hide any association with the force; Tier 2 operations are ‘discreet’ but ‘links to RCMP possible.’
RCMP meeting notes show members discussing using technologies to enable its computers and cell phone activity to appear to originate in other countries “instead of bouncing all signals out of Ottawa.”
Pierre Perron, when a top information officer in the RCMP in 2017, blasted the RCMP’s national operations for ‘continually wasting time, wasting resources and wasting money’ and departed the force a month later to work for the Chinese IT giant Huawei.
A page from ancomic introducing Project Wideawake, a secret government effort to head off ‘an anti-government group of super-beings.’
An RCMP slide persuades trainees to put aside concerns about citizens’ privacy.
But in other moments, the force earnestly justifies its secret web surveillance by invoking a sense of overriding public duty.
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RCMP Information Management diagram of its Tactical Internet Operations Support unit, where it defines the Dark Web it wants to target as including ‘Private communications,’ ‘Political protests,’ ‘Illegal information,’ ‘Drug trafficking sites’ and ‘TOR-encrypted sites.’