Monday, May 01, 2006

In the news: CSE watchdog checks CSE tactics

Jim Bronskill reports (Jim Bronskill, "U.S. wiretapping controversy sparked inquiries from Canadian spy watchdog," Canadian Press, 30 April 2006) that CSE Commissioner Antonio Lamer questioned CSE earlier this year about whether it is running domestic surveillance programs similar to the controversial NSA warrantless surveillance program revealed last December. Details of the questions raised by the Commissioner and the responses provided by CSE were not revealed in the censored documents released to Bronskill under the Access to Information Act. But Joanne Weeks, executive director of the CSE Commissioner's office, told Bronskill that the Commissioner "was satisfied with the responses to the queries he posed to the chief of CSE."

I have to quibble with Bronskill when he contends that "the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 gave the CSE authority to tap into the conversations and messages of foreigners even if those communications began or ended in Canada." As long as the target of the interception is the communications of a foreign entity located outside Canada, such as Osama Bin Laden or the Al Qaeda network in general, and a suitable ministerial authorization has been provided, the Act permits CSE to collect communications that have Canadian participants as well as those with foreign participants. The Act requires that unspecified measures be taken to safeguard the privacy of Canadians during such operations, but this does not constitute a blanket ban on collecting "private communications" that involve Canadians. Such communications can be intercepted, used, and retained by CSE as long as the collection was "directed at" the foreign entity or its activities and the collected material is considered by CSE to be "essential to international affairs, defence or security". Only those communications not considered to be of intelligence value must be discarded.

Quibble aside, this is another useful and informative article from the only Canadian reporter who consistently covers intelligence issues.

My own comments about the NSA program and questions about possible Canadian implications are here and here.

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