The Intercept released the latest of Edward Snowden’s NSA document leaks early Wednesday morning, making it the first time that a Canadian agency has been implicated as a key player in global mass surveillance. According to the Intercept:

The LEVITATION program can monitor downloads in several countries across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and North America. It is led by the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, Canada’s equivalent of the NSA. (The Canadian agency was formerly known as “CSEC” until a recent name change.)

The latest disclosure sheds light on Canada’s broad existing surveillance capabilities at a time when the country’s government is pushing for a further expansion of security powers following attacks in Ottawa and Quebec last year.

Ron Deibert, director of University of Toronto-based Internet security think tank Citizen Lab, said LEVITATION illustrates the “giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives.”

“Every single thing that you do – in this case uploading/downloading files to these sites – that act is being archived, collected and analyzed,” Deibert said, after reviewing documents about the online spying operation for CBC News.

While the justification for the program is to monitor potential terrorists sharing files but along the way the agency is collecting a tremendous amount of data on people without any sort of warrant. Sendspace, Rapidshare, and no longer operating Megaupload are the only specific sharing sites that are named. The Intercepts report continues:

As of mid-2012, CSE was maintaining a list of 2,200 particular download links that it regarded as connected to suspicious “documents of interest.” Anyone clicking on those links could have found themselves subject to extra scrutiny from the spies.

While LEVITATION is purportedly identifying potential terror threats, Canadian legal experts consulted by CBC News were concerned by the broad scope of the operation.

“The specific uses that they talk about in this [counter-terrorism] context may not be the problem, but it’s what else they can do,” said Tamir Israel, a lawyer with the University of Ottawa’s Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. Picking which downloads to monitor is essentially “completely at the discretion of CSE,” Israel added.

It is unclear whether any legitimate terrorist operation has been prevented by the LEVITATION program.

While Canadian law prohibits the agency from targeting Canadians for warrantless snooping, at least two IP addresses on the list traced back to Montreal. Predictably the CSE claims that it isn’t breaking the law in anyway, saying in a statement:

CSE is legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata, including from parts of the Internet routinely used by terrorists. Some of CSE`s metadata analysis activities are designed to identify foreign terrorists who use the Internet to conduct activities that threaten the security of Canada and Canadian citizens.

CSE does not direct its activities at Canadians or anyone in Canada, and, in accordance with our legislation, has a range of measures in place to protect the privacy of Canadians incidentally encountered in the course of these foreign intelligence operations.

(Photo: i digital)