Security-bill snooping goes too far, federal watchdogs warn
Ian MacLeod, Ottawa Citizen More from Ian MacLeod, Ottawa Citizen
Published on: April 23, 2015
Last Updated: April 23, 2015 7:57 PM EDT
The federal government’s proposed security bill contains serious and contradictory flaws that will allow more than 100 government entities to exchange Canadians’ confidential information – yet no provision for similar information-sharing between the agencies that track the lawfulness of federal spies and police, parliamentarians were told Thursday.
Four of Canada’s top government watchdogs – who monitor privacy, the country’s two spy agencies and the RCMP – testified on Bill C-51 before the Senate national security committee.
Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien levelled the harshest blows. Canadians risk being caught in a web of unbridled government snooping into their personal lives if the draft security legislation becomes law, he warned.
“The bill would potentially lead to disproportionately large amounts of personal information of ordinary, law-abiding citizens being collected and shared. This sets up the prospect of profiling and Big Data analytics on all Canadians. In short, the means chosen are excessive to achieve the end,” Therrien said.
A crucial concern is C-51’s proposed Security of Canada Information Sharing Act. It would allow more than 100 federal departments, agencies and other entities to share information about Canadians with 17 departments and agencies that have national security responsibilities. The information would only have to be “relevant” to a potential or suspected national security threat. The 17 agencies also could share and collate information among themselves.
Therrien fears this could lead the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), RCMP, Department of Finance and others to share potentially all information they may hold on Canadians and businesses.
“The minister of public safety has indicated there are several privacy protections envisaged by Bill C-51. While I agree there are some, I believe they fall quite short of what a balanced approach would require,” he said.
Therrien’s recommendations to the committee include:
– Information should only be shared between departments if “necessary” – not merely “relevant” as the bill currently reads – to combat activities that threaten national security.
– The bill should be amended to: ensure that all 17 agencies are subject to independent and effective review, by an expert body and by parliamentarians; remove impediments for information exchange between existing review bodies; and amend the Privacy Act to allow for judicial recourse in cases involving collection, use or disclosure of personal information. The bill should also include a mandatory period of review after three years.
– Fourteen of the 17 agencies to receive information for national security purposes are not subject to dedicated independent review or oversight. To fill that gap, the jurisdiction of one or more of the existing review bodies (monitoring Canada’s two spy agencies and the RCMP) should be extended to include the 14, or a new expert review body with horizontal jurisdiction should be created to review the lawfulness and reasonableness of national security activities.
Meanwhile, the heads of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which monitors the activities of CSIS, and the Office of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) Commissioner, which watches over Canada’s electronic spy agency, CSE, complained Thursday that C-51 does nothing to help them share information with each other.
In the increasingly entwined and expanding world of federal security intelligence, the two watchdogs remain firmly locked in silos and unable to “follow the thread” of their agency’s operational activities once they move into the domain of another department or agency.
“These legislative constraints on SIRC will make it increasingly difficult for us to provide robust assurances on CSIS’s activities to Parliament and Canadians,” said Michael Doucet, SIRC’s executive director.
Jean-Pierre Plouffe, the CSE commissioner, voiced the same concern. ““It is critical (that) the ability of review bodies to share and co-operate must keep pace,” with the sweeping reforms and new powers C-51 will give to federal spies and RCMP national security investigators, he said.