Espionage in the Information Age

During the most recent UN General Assembly, Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, accused the USA National Security Agency of spying on Brazilian government officials.

A recent report from the Brazilian news agency, Globo, has provided new information based on more documents leaked by Snowden.  According to Globo, not only is Brazil being spied on by the U.S., but by Canada as well.

Even though we live in the information age, it is highly difficult to distinguish serious from not-so-serious sources of information. The Internet is presented as a tool of countless opportunities. We are told that we have the world at the distance of a click.

Nonetheless, the Internet could also be used as a weapon. Thus, many governments have called for the creation of an Internet Code of Ethics under international law.

However, it may be a challenging task to come up with a design to safeguard information from malicious hands. It would be even more difficult to attribute responsibilities due to the fact that anyone from anywhere can manipulate information, given that they possess the necessary skills.

One may think that espionage is something of the past, something associated with the Cold War. It may be the case that espionage is not being carried out in the same ways, though. The term “economic espionage” has been coined to describe a specific and rather frequent type of intelligence.

Rousseff’s claims that Canada has been spying on Brazil’s Mining and Energy Ministry could be categorized as economic espionage.

Given the increasing importance that Brazil has for the Canadian economy, it only makes sense that the Canadian government may be interested in securing its economic assets. It would be highly unprofessional to evaluate whether Canada did or did not spy on Brazil due to the fact that information in this sort of matter is highly unreliable. However, we can conjecture about the reasons why this sort of behaviour may be encouraged. Brazil represents an extremely important trading partner for Canada, specifically the Canadian mining industry, given that it has a high quantity and variety of mineral resources.

A document of facts and figures published by the Mining Association of Canada specifies, “The mining industry contributes greatly to Canada’s economic strength. The industry employs 320 thousand workers across the country in mineral extraction, smelting, fabrication, and manufacturing. The industry’s $35.6 billion contribution to Canada’s gross domestic product in 2011 included $8.5 billion in mineral extraction, and over $27 billion in mineral processing and manufacturing.”

Furthermore, it outlines that, internationally, “Canada is one of the leading mining countries, and one of the largest producers of minerals and metals. The industry accounted for 22.8 percent of the value of Canadian goods exports in 2011, selling a diversified array of minerals abroad. Exports of aluminum, copper, gold, iron and steel, iron ore, nickel, silver, uranium, zinc, diamonds, potash, and coal ranged from $1.7 billion to $18.7 billion each.”  This is evidence that the global mining market is of great importance for the Canadian economy, and that securing big international markets such as Brazil is of utmost significance.

The Brazilian government has expressed its willingness to double efforts in Internet security and has also declared its interest in even building its own Internet network structure. According to CTV News, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has expressed concerns about the situation, and has declared that Canadian officials are reaching out to their Brazilian counterparts in order to solve this problem.

The issue has sparked a debate in the domestic sphere as well. On October 7, CBC aired a Power & Politics program in which espionage issues were discussed. A ballot box question was presented: “Are you concerned that Canadian spies are watching you?” The results of the ballots were: Yes: 54%, No: 45%, Not sure: 2%. Even though the discussion was flooded with clichés, to say the least, it does raise issues about the lack of accountability. Many of us may not be entirely aware of what the Harper government is actually planning and envisioning for Canada’s future. Some of the discussions about the topic involved outraged individuals that praise the Canada’s tradition of peace and respect for international law and despise the possibility of Canada spying on foreign countries, which could damage Canadian prestige. These allegations have certainly damaged Canadian-Brazilian relations.

Regardless of the veracity of these espionage claims, we can certainly argue that vested economic interests are powerful motivators. Espionage violates the essential rights of respect and the guarantee of individual freedoms, which are the base of the Canadian society. These claims may provide an opportunity to hold the government accountable, and in the process, strengthen the Canadian democracy.