Canadian intelligence agencies need to disclose more: Report

Canada’s spy and intelligence agencies  need to be more open on the way they collect, use and disclose personal information, says the country’s interim privacy commissioner.

In a report to Parliament coinciding with International Privacy Day, Chantal Bernier acknowledges that there is a “complex threat environment” to the nation. But at the same time there have to be steps to protect privacy.  Specificially, the collecting of personal data should be “reasonable, proportionate and minimally intrusive,” as well as ensuring there are proper access controls on retained data.

In addition there must be controls on the scope of information requests by government agencies and on disclosures to outside agencies.

Click here to read the full report

“While a certain level of secrecy is necessary within intelligence activities, so is accountability within a democracy,” Bernier said in a statement Tuesday. “Given our mission to protect and promote privacy, and our responsibility to provide advice to Parliament, we are putting forward some recommendations and ideas for Parliamentarians to consider on these important issues.”

In particular the report says Parliament should require

–Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC, the electronic spy agency, to disclose annual statistics on cases where it assists other federal agencies who want communications intercepted;

–CSEC to report annual to Parliament describing its activities, priorities and risk assessments of violence;

–extend the obligation of Public Safety Canada to report on its use of electronic surveillance;

–change the Privacy Act to require federal government departments to show the need for collecting personal information.

“While secrecy may be an inherent aspect of many intelligence activities, so is accountability,” says the report.

It notes that in Britain, an independent commissioner reviews applications by intelligence agencies for the interception of communications. There are also special Commissioners established for data protection, surveillance, use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) and the intelligence services. There’s also a specialized, security-cleared committee drawn from both Houses of Parliament – the Intelligence and Security Committee – to oversee national security activities with Ministerial approval.

In the U.S., Congress has a separate security cleared standing committee in each House specifically tasked with intelligence oversight. A specially nominated bench of security-cleared justices presides over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which approves both appropriate Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance activities.

Last week President Barak Obama called for more oversight over the National Security Agency (NSA) after revelations about the extent of its electronic data gathering. In particular its ability to gather metadata on telephone records will have some limits.

The NSA and its electronic intelligence partners — including CSEC — have been accused of creative data collection through material from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

One of the latest revelations is that the NSA might have been collecting personal data from online players of the game Angry Birds. In response to that report, hackers defaced the web site.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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