Researchers determine where Canadian data transfers increase exposure to US state surveillance

December 17, 2015 by Ryan Saxby Hill

Researchers at the University of Toronto announced today that IXmaps, a visual, interactive database of Internet traffic routes, is now live. The tool, funded by the .CA Community Investment Program, helps Canadians understand how their Internet traffic moves, and how certain traffic routes (known as 'boomerang routes') move data through the United States and into the jurisdiction of the U.S. National Security Agency before returning to Canada.

Key facts

  • Canada's Internet infrastructure is intimately linked to U.S. networks. Many of the major Internet providers in Canada have networks that favour north – south connections, pushing Canadian data flows toward key American routing hubs in New York, Chicago, Seattle or California.
  • The most popular sites Canadians visit online, such as Google, Facebook, Youtube or Amazon, are based in the United States. When using these services, Canadians likely recognize the fact that their data leaves exclusive Canadian jurisdiction and is exposed to American mass surveillance under such laws as the Patriot Act.
  • Canadians may be surprised to learn however that when accessing Canadian sites, even those in the same city, their data often still flows through the United States. IXmaps research has found thousands of Internet traffic routes in which both ends of a data transfer are located in Canada, but the information travels via the U.S. These are known as boomerang routes.
  • Exposing private or sensitive data, such as health information, student records, political affiliation, religious beliefs, financial information, controversial viewpoints or intimate communications, to foreign surveillance is highly problematic. Even when sharing relatively innocuous information on social media, Canadians have a right to expect their privacy rights will be respected.
  • There are several ways that companies and organizations can work to limit the risk of their customer or client data needlessly moving through the United States. Thanks to investment from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, there is now a national network of Internet exchange points across Canada that allow Canadian IXPs to peer and exchange Internet data within Canada. Consumers should be aware of and comfortable with their ISP's level of commitment to maintaining data privacy.

Executive quotes

The video will load shortly

"There is nothing inherently wrong with data moving unencumbered across an interconnected global Internet infrastructure. It is, however, critical that Canadians understand the implications of their data being stored on U.S servers and moving through U.S. jurisdiction. ISPs need to be transparent, privacy protective and accountable custodians of user information in this regard. Internet users should be fully informed consumers and citizens when making choices about their sensitive personal data." —Andrew Clement, University of Toronto

"Internet advocates across Canada have long recognised that truly Canadian Internet infrastructure is the only way to keep Canadians' data under the purview of Canadian laws. At the Canadian Internet Registration Authority we have invested heavily in the east to west backbone of Internet exchanges points required to maintain Canadian Internet traffic routes." —Jacques Latour, chief technology officer at the Canadian Internet Registration Authority

"Few Canadians realize just how much of our everyday Internet traffic travels through the U.S. You could be in a restaurant in downtown Montréal emailing your friend across the street, and that data could easily be traveling through the U.S., where it's subject to invasive NSA surveillance. That's why it's so important that Canadians pitch in, and help us learn more about the paths our data actually takes online." —Laura Tribe, Digital Rights Specialist, OpenMedia

Canadians can learn from and contribute to IXmaps

  • IXmaps has a crowdsourced database of over 40,000 internet routes, which you can map selectively via the Explore page of the website. It is working to expand its database to better represent all regions of Canada and all ISPs. Canadians can contribute to this research to help better understand how different regions, ISPs, and websites, influence the routes that our takes online and the hence the privacy risks they are exposed to.
  • Contributing data involves installing the IXmaps Client traceroute generating software built by the IXmaps development team. The software initiates anonymized traceroute requests from your location and shares the results via the Explore page of the website.

Explore further: Canada privacy czar warns against spies trawling social media

More information: Factsheet: Find out more about Canada's national network of Internet exchange points:

Related Stories

Spy agency tracked Canadians at an airport (Update)

January 31, 2014

A secret document leaked by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden shows Canada's electronic spy agency used information gleaned from a free internet service at a Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ...

Canada demands Google, Netflix data, sets deadline

September 30, 2014

Canada's broadcast regulator on Monday gave American companies Google and Netflix a three-day deadline to turn over subscriber data or have their testimony expunged from a major public hearing, media reported.

Canadian ownership of tablets soars

October 27, 2015

Canadians are increasingly using tablet computers, with nearly half the population owning a device in 2014, up 10 points from the previous year, the government telecommunications agency said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Bank hacks raise fears for financial sector

July 25, 2016

A series of spectacular cyber attacks against banks, resulting in the theft of tens of millions of dollars, has heightened fears for an industry becoming an increasingly attractive target for hackers.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.