CSIS employees left vulnerable to anybody with access to Google Maps, experts say
Despite there being a sign saying “no photography” at the entrance to its Ottawa Headquarters, last year, Google’s Street View car drove past a gate CSIS admits is left open during the day and took pictures of employees as well as their cars in the parking lot.
The pictures, which were online since 2017, were taken down after Global News inquired about them.
“The parking lot was full,” says internet expert Sydney Eatz. “Every [licence] plate was there and I can see everybody’s plate.”
The plates are blurred but Eatz and her partner Richard Trus have found what they’re calling a glaring breach of security: the cars can be tracked back to the owners’ homes.
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Using reverse image searching, the parking lot pictures identify unique characteristics on vehicles, and if any of those cars were caught by Google’s cameras in a residential driveway, Eatz and Trus say it’s possible to know the home address of CSIS employees.
“We’re not saying it is going to find everything 100 per cent,” Trus said. “But what it does is it creates a national security breach that exposes employees of CSIS and their home addresses through a tool that was developed to make navigation easier. It’s also made spying much easier.”
Global News brought the story to the attention of CSIS and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, neither of whom were aware of it.
“CSIS property is important,” Goodale told Global News in Ottawa. “But I will take a look at it.”
CSIS officials told Global News that while its campus is open during the day, it has “robust” security in place that it can’t speak to publicly.
“CSIS’ role is to protect Canadians and that includes our employees. We take this role extremely seriously. Protecting our own allows us to protect our fellow Canadians,” spokesperson Tahera Mufti said in a statement.
Security experts were equally shocked. Former CSIS employee Phil Gurski says employees don’t divulge they work for the security agency, saying instead they work for Public Safety Canada. And while the location and existence of the CSIS headquarters is not a secret, the identity of those who work there is.
“I don’t want to overblow this threat,” Gurski says.
“I don’t want to sound all Cassandra-like and say, ‘It’s the end of the world.’ But the identities of the people who work for the service are protected for a reason and I don’t think a company like Google has a right to place images of the cars of people who work for a security intelligence service available to the public so these connections can be made.”
As part of its Street View project, Google drives along public roads. However, Google tells Global News that occasionally, drivers go where they’re not supposed to.
“While Street View enables people to easily find, discover and plan activities relevant to a location, we respect that people may not want certain images featured,” a Google spokesperson told Global News. “So we provide easily accessible tools for flagging sensitive imagery for review and removal. To report an issue in Street View, there is a ‘Report a Problem’ link at the bottom of every page.”
As of Wednesday morning, the pictures in question have been taken down.
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