Canada’s electronic spy agency broke privacy law by sharing info: watchdog

Canada's electronic spy agency broke privacy laws by sharing information about Canadians with foreign partners, says a federal watchdog.

OTTAWA — Canada’s electronic spy agency broke privacy laws by sharing information about Canadians with foreign partners, says a federal watchdog.

The Communications Security Establishment passed along the information — known as metadata — to counterparts in the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, said Jean-Pierre Plouffe, who keeps an eye on the highly secretive agency.

Metadata is information associated with a communication — such as a telephone number or email address — but not the message itself.

The Ottawa-based CSE uses highly advanced technology to intercept, sort and analyze foreign communications for information of intelligence interest to the federal government.

Documents leaked in 2013 by former American spy contractor Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. National Security Agency — a close CSE ally — had quietly obtained access to a huge volume of emails, chat logs and other information from major Internet companies, as well as massive amounts of data about telephone calls.

As a result, civil libertarians, privacy advocates and opposition politicians demanded assurances the CSE was not using its extraordinary powers to snoop on Canadians.

The spy agency is legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata churning through cyberspace, and it inevitably comes across data trails about Canadian messages and calls.

Privacy advocates have stressed that metadata is far from innocuous, as it can reveal much about a person’s online behaviour.

In his annual report for 2014-15, completed last year but made public only Thursday, Plouffe said certain CSE metadata activities raised legal questions that he continued to examine and assess.

In a statement, Plouffe said he has since completed that legal assessment.

In collecting metadata, the CSE is required to take measures to protect the privacy of Canadians.

Plouffe said the spy service discovered on its own that certain types of metadata containing Canadian identity information were not being properly “minimized” — removing potentially revealing details — before being shared with the CSE’s four key foreign partners.

The former head of the CSE informed the watchdog, as well as the defence minister, about the matter. CSE then suspended the sharing of this metadata with its partners.

After “careful examination,” Plouffe concluded that the CSE’s failure to strip out certain Canadian identity information violated the National Defence Act and therefore the federal Privacy Act as well.

Plouffe informed the defence minister and the attorney general of his findings.

The watchdog concludes that while the CSE’s actions were “not intentional” the spy agency did not exercise “due diligence when it failed to ensure that the Canadian identity information was properly minimized.”

In a statement, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, the cabinet member responsible for the CSE, said the metadata that was shared with Canada’s partners “did not contain names or enough information on its own to identify individuals” and that the privacy impact “was low.”

Nonetheless, Sajjan said the CSE will not resume sharing this information with partners until he is “fully satisfied” effective systems and measures are in place.

Just Posted

Red Deer Games stuffie Waskasoo is a hit

Alberta premier gives the mascot a boost

Red Deerians encouraged to make mitten donations during the Games for those in nee

Mitts for Many drop-offs accepted at Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre

Northern B.C. First Nation clan says ancient tools found at pipeline work site

THE CANADIAN PRESS HOUSTON, B.C. — Coastal GasLink says it has suspended… Continue reading

VIDEO: Community ‘comes together’ at opening ceremonies

The nation will focus its eyes on Red Deer for the next… Continue reading

Syrian chocolatier to hire, mentor refugees: ‘They come here to contribute’

ANTIGONISH, N.S. — A one-time Syrian refugee who founded a thriving Nova… Continue reading

VIDEO: Community ‘comes together’ at opening ceremonies

The nation will focus its eyes on Red Deer for the next… Continue reading

South African activists try to protect endangered pangolins

JOHANNESBURG — As World Pangolin Day is marked around the globe, Saturday,… Continue reading

Fourteen ‘dream’ homes ordered evacuated as sinkholes open in Sechelt, B.C.

Greg and Gerry Latham spent Friday morning scrambling to pack up family… Continue reading

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell accused of sexual assault: British newspaper

LONDON — A British newspaper says police in London are investigating an… Continue reading

Graham: U.S. should be stronger on Canadians detained in China

MUNICH — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday the response by the… Continue reading

Conservative leaders to attend pro-pipeline rally in Saskatchewan

By Stephanie Taylor THE CANADIAN PRESS MOOSOMIN, Sask. — Federal Tory leader… Continue reading

Games athletes making themselves at home at RDC

Red Deer College’s campus will be home for the athletes during the 2019 Canada Winter Games

Alix resident captures beams of light near Lacombe

Lacombe, Blackfalds, Red Deer photos have since gone viral around the world

Welcome message from the mayor

On behalf of Red Deer city council, the City of Red Deer… Continue reading

Most Read