Friday, August 15, 2014

CSEC amendments on permanent hold?

Colin Freeze has written a very interesting article on the government's failure to enact its long-promised amendments to the National Defence Act provisions concerning CSEC (Colin Freeze, "Harper government backtracked on bill to curb surveillance," Globe and Mail, 14 August 2014):
Legal fixes for Communications Security Establishment Canada, Ottawa’s electronic intelligence agency, had been considered “a legislative priority” by the Tories five years ago, to the point that then-defence minister Peter MacKay was successfully pushing for a package of amendments at the cabinet table.

These fixes were regarded as necessary because two former Supreme Court justices had highlighted the spy agency’s laws as flawed. So had other retired judges who had also left their courtrooms to serve as CSEC’s watchdog “commissioner.”

...

Yet the Conservatives’ years-earlier proposals for reform – which never materialized in Parliament – appear to have been moved back indefinitely.

“We are aware of recommendations to amend the National Defence Act but will not speculate on possible future legislative amendments,” wrote Julie Di Mambro, a spokeswoman for Mr. Nicholson, in reply to Globe questions. (The office of Mr. MacKay, now Justice Minister, declined comment.)

The bid to reform CSEC’s laws had been quietly building momentum within government, until an unrelated police-surveillance bill, C-30, was tabled and proved deeply unpopular. (Former public safety minister Vic Toews leached support away from that act with his polarizing remark that the Opposition “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”)
So apparently Vic Toews killed the amendments.

Presumably the government was afraid that the increased attention to surveillance and privacy issues precipated by C-30 would lead to too much interest in CSEC's intelligence-gathering powers and techniques when the NDA amendments came before parliament.

Here's what I wrote on the subject back when it looked like the government might actually do something.

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