Tag Archives: Surveillance

Comedy of errors at CSIS highlights incompetence of surveillance review body

Image description: an outline of a keyhole against a black background. Through the keyhole is a blue eye looking directly at the camera. In the top left is a crest of a red maple leaf surrounded by a blue circle.

Last week, with the release of an annual report by the Security Review Intelligence Committee (SIRC), we got a rare glimpse into the normally secretive world of Canada’s spy agency – and the barest outline of a farcical comedy of errors emerged.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is very protective of its privacy – see their attempts to engineer a top-secret closed-doors no-defence-lawyers-allowed court session discussing their alleged involvement in a high-stakes terrorism trial – so it’s unlikely we’ll ever know the full story of what transpired. But from what’s been revealed to the public already, there’s some serious cause for concerns, both about CSIS’s ability and willingness to respect Canadians’ rights and about the government’s ability and willingness to create effective oversight for intelligence agencies. Continue Reading

CSE metadata scandal casts doubt on Parliament’s surveillance-oversight credibility

A protester holds a sign reading “Stop Watching All Of Us”. Below is a stylized eyeball, the pupil of which is a handprint held up in a “stop” gesture. (Image credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr)

If you’re like most Canadians, you’ve never heard of the CSE.

CSIS? Sure, in a vague kind of way – they’re kind of like the Canadian CIA, right? (Not exactly.) But the Communications Security Establishment lacks the widespread recognition of its controversy-entangled American counterpart, the NSA.

Maybe you’ve heard of them? Or their most famous contractor? His leak of NSA documents got this country – briefly – talking about the CSE this time last year when it was revealed that the extremely secretive agency monitors tens of millions of downloads every day.

The CSE, like the NSA, engages in what’s known as “signals intelligence” – monitoring of phone calls and electronic communications. Unlike the NSA, which famously hoovers up whatever it can get its high-tech cybernetic paws on, regardless of the source, CSE faces some restrictions on its surveillance, the most significant of which is that it is not permitted to monitor the communications of Canadian citizens.

But it’s hard to exclude specific sources when you’re scooping up such massive amounts of information. In practice, CSE collects its intelligence pretty indiscriminately, and then it filters out, or “minimizes”, information pertaining to Canadian citizens.

Or at least that’s the idea. In practice, it turns out that CSE has not actually been doing such a good job at “minimizing” that information, and in fact shared it with Canada’s surveillance partners in four other countries for quite some time. Continue Reading

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