Internet data pinballs across national borders, and for Canadians this means potentially exposing it to eavesdropping by US-based corporations and the National Security Agency.
Now, an interactive mapping tool named Internet Exchange Mapping (IXmaps), re-launched for public use today, will show you how—and how easily—your data can be spied on by tracing the oftentimes byzantine routes data takes when traversing the internet.
IXmaps looks at what are known as traceroutes, the geographic path data takes when bouncing through internet exchanges—buildings connecting the most important internet cables. The NSA for example, is known to have installed listening posts in some of these buildings, and can listen in on the data that passes through.
The point of IXmaps is to reveal how your data might pass through one of these listening posts, said the site's founder and University of Toronto professor Andrew Clement. The idea is to "make visible the secret, dangerous, often illegal forms of surveillance that are increasingly becoming part of everyday life," he said in an interview.
The current version of IXmaps was developed with help from OpenMedia, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (which manages the .CA domain), and Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The project has been in the works since 2008.
The NSA can look at pretty much all American data, Clement said. Listening posts presumably don't discriminate based on nationality—whether you're Canadian or American, they're interested in data crossing in and out of the US. The map includes 18 US cities where "reported and suspected" NSA interception facilities are located.
"Once outside Canada, your data is treated by the NSA as foreign and loses Canadian legal and constitutional protections," the IXmaps website explains. "This represents a major loss of privacy."
Just this month, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada issued an open letter asking for better protection of Canadian privacy after Donald Trump signed an executive order that excluded permanent residents and non-US citizens from the protections under the US Privacy Act.
"This is a major challenge to democratic principles," Clement said. "And these fears greatly increased with what we saw with the Trump administration."
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