Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Privacy Commissioner calls for better oversight, accountability

Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier submitted a Special Report to Parliament today, titled Checks and Controls: Reinforcing Privacy Protection and Oversight for the Canadian Intelligence Community in an Era of Cyber-Surveillance.

A summary of the report's purpose and recommendations can be read here. (See also news coverage: Alex Boutilier, "Canada’s spy agency needs more oversight: watchdog," Toronto Star, 28 January 2014.)

Key CSEC-related recommendations include:

- “Require CSEC to produce an annual report for the Minister to table in Parliament: Amend the National Defence Act to require CSEC to produce a non-classified public report to be tabled in Parliament, as CSIS does, describing its ongoing activities and a summary of its risk assessments (violent extremism, organized crime, foreign corruption, etc.) and general policy priorities.” [To which I would add, resume reporting budgetary information at (or above) the level of detail provided prior to CSEC becoming a stand-alone agency.]

- “Require CSEC to proactively disclose annual statistics on cases where it assists other federal agencies with requests for interception: Under the National Defence Act, CSEC can assist federal law enforcement and security agencies, including investigations of Canadians. Regular, annual public reporting would be an improvement in this regard, similar to SIRC’s Annual Report and Public Safety Canada's Annual Report on the Use of Electronic Surveillance. Where possible, CSEC could also make public more detailed, current information about mandates, operating protocols and other statistical information, in keeping with open government principles.”

- “Clarify the provisions in the National Defence Act (NDA) for Ministerial Authorization to circumscribe CSEC activities at the statutory level. As previously recommended, statutory definitions for “activity”, “class of activities”, “intercept” and “interception” would be welcomed. Review the CSEC mandates set out in legislation and make the broader terms, references and definitions for their operations explicit in the NDA.”

- “Bolster the powers of the federal bodies reviewing national security operations: Concretely address past OCSEC, CPC and SIRC concerns with respect to the conduct of joint reviews, with advance consultation with each body on necessary measures.”

The report also makes a number of recommendations related to other agencies or to the intelligence community more generally, and also recommends that Parliament play a more active role in intelligence agency accountability:
In general terms, it remains Parliament’s role to seek accountability to Canadians. To that end we recommend that Parliamentarians:
  • Conduct a global study of the state of Canada’s intelligence oversight and review mechanisms. Existing Parliamentary venues can address political and Ministerial accountability while also producing useful studies and raising policy questions;
  • Regularly call representatives of the Canadian intelligence community to appear before committees;
  • Hear from civil society, advocates and academics working in this area; and
  • Coordinate their topics for study and witnesses to enhance coverage of the Canadian intelligence community. For example, it could be of great value for Parliamentarians to examine privacy issues in light of the emergent interface between security agencies, private sector stakeholders and the need to safeguard critical infrastructure.

[Update 9:00 pm: Coverage/commentary:

- Ian Macleod, "Privacy commissioner calls for major surveillance reforms to protect Canadians," Ottawa Citizen, 28 January 2014 - Trinh Teresa Do, "Social media may become spies' main 'channel,' privacy watchdog warns," CBC News, 28 January 2014 - "Privacy: You need to know who is listening," Globe and Mail, 28 January 2014 - "Government must act immediately to implement Privacy Commissioner’s new recommendations to safeguard Canadians’ privacy from spy agency CSEC," openmedia.ca, 28 January 2014

Update 30 January 2014:

- Josh Wingrove, "Experts weigh in on the state of Canada’s spying rules," Globe and Mail, 30 January 2014]

Also of interest, recent comments by Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner:

- Ann Cavoukian, "The silence over privacy puts our freedoms at risk," orginally published in the Globe and Mail, 27 January 2014

- Joseph Brean, "Canada needs independent watchdog to prevent NSA-type breaches: Ontario privacy commissioner," National Post, 27 January 2014

- "Commissioner Cavoukian urges Canadians to follow Edward Snowden's lead by demanding more privacy and less surveillance," Canada News Wire, 28 January 2014

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