Security concerns have been raised about a U.S. takeover of a national fibre optic network which carries sensitive federal government telecommunication traffic with fears that the U.S. will find it easier to access confidential Canadian data.
Last month a Manitoba business transaction was concluded in which Manitoba Telecom Services Inc.’s Allstream unit was bought by U.S based Zayo Group. Allstream has a coast to coast fibre optic network and carries data for 43 Canadian departments including the Department of Defence, the RCMP and Canada Revenue Agency.
Allstram’s sale to Egypt’s Accelero Capital Holdings was blocked by the Harper government in 2013 on grounds of national security. The government gave the reason that ”it provides critical telecommunications services to businesses and governments, including the government of Canada.”
This latest business for sale Manitoba was announced by Manitoba Telecom in November but the Trudeau government declined to conduct and official national security review.
Stéfanie Powers, spokeswoman for the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development that carries out screening of foreign takeovers said, ”The 45-day period during which the government could raise national security concerns has passed.”
Michael Geist, an expert in Internet Law at the University of Ottawa says, “Any time you have a U.S –based entity that owns a Canadian network, it increases the risk that U.S. authorities will have easier access to the information that runs on that network.
The Patriot Act gives the U.S. government power to force a U.S. company to produce information, including communication in possession of a foreign subsidiary.
Microsoft is currently appealing an order in 2014 by a U.S. court to hand over e-mails on company servers in Ireland. U.S government lawyer Justin Anderson told Reuters last fall that the U.S. law enforcement believes that it can obtain information held by U.S companies, with a valid warrant, regardless of where the data are stored.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement said “The Trudeau cabinet declined to do even the very least to examine whether Canada’s national interests are being affected by this transaction. This is a very bad precedent…Canadians deserve to know what safeguards the government of Canada is putting into place to ensure the protection of sensitive and proprietary information.”
Andrew Clement who is a professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of information, said spying revelations from Whistleblower Edward Snowden should cause skepticism in Canadian decision-makers about the kind of surveillance the United States might undertake.