Latest Snowden Leaks Reveal ‘Levitation’

It’s not over yet. As the year wanes on, leaks from the Snowden camp continue to trickle out, and the latest seems to have the activities of users download habits square in its sights.


Photo: The Guardian

This time however, unlike pretty much every other leak we’ve seen so far, we see the Canadians getting in on the spying action in order to protect the interests of major media industry moguls like the RIAA and MPAA.

Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher of The Intercept have released their latest cache of documents, detailing a set of programs that were run on behalf of the Canadian government to track activities on popular file hosting websites.

In a PowerPoint presentation dated 2012, the “LEVITATION” program was being used to track, log, and archive up to 15 millions downloads per day on the popular portals Sendspace, Rapidshare and the (now-defunct) Megaupload.

According to a statement from the Canadian agency the Communications Security Establishment, the CSE is:

“Clearly mandated to collect foreign signals intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians from a variety of threats to our national security, including terrorism,” agency spokesman Andrew McLaughlin wrote in an email.

In any other situation, it might be understandable that the NSA needs to track phone calls or the GCHQ needs to read emails to catch terrorists, but what makes the case of Levitation so interesting is how impossible it is to justify watching what people download as an “anti-terrorism” procedure.

Image Credit: The Intercept

Photo: The Intercept

Nowhere does the document say that there are a larger number of suspicious users on the 102 different file hosts that were being observed.

Furthermore, around 99 percent of the content flowing through those sites was copyright protected, which leads one to believe that the spying effort was launched more to protect the interests of private companies than it was to guard the safety of average citizens.

This marks one of the first true cases of abuse that we’ve seen in the Snowden leaks that has no clear basis in anti-terrorist rhetoric. Without an explanation from the agency themselves, it couldn’t be taken as anything else except a tool that the government used to target file sharing users throughout the country and keep track of their movements for later prosecution.

“Every single thing that you do — in this case uploading/downloading files to these sites — that act is being archived, collected and analyzed,” says Ron Deibert, director of the University of Toronto-based internet security think-tank Citizen Lab, who reviewed the document.

The claim is that these sites were being used to transmit and trade everything from terrorism “manuals” to how-tos on bomb making, though the documents are unable to point to any specific instances where content of this nature was successfully intercepted.

Either way, due to the wide-sweeping nature of the operation, millions of innocent Canadians IP addresses were linked to the downloading and uploading of illegal content. This is in clear violation of laws put in place by the country which expressly prohibit domestic surveillance, and should bring cause for alarm for the people of Canada as news of Levitation spreads in the coming weeks.