Security bill needs safeguards to prevent ‘a profile on all of us’: privacy czar

Security bill needs safeguards: privacy czar

OTTAWA — National security agencies should be required to destroy personal information once they determine someone is not a threat, the federal privacy watchdog says.

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien is calling for changes to the Liberal government’s sweeping security bill to ensure prompt disposal of personal data the agencies don’t really need.

“Otherwise national security agencies will be able to keep a profile on all of us,” Therrien told the House of Commons public safety committee Thursday.

The Liberal security legislation, tabled in June, fleshes out campaign promises to revise elements of a contentious omnibus bill brought in by the Harper government after a gunman stormed Parliament Hill in October 2014.

The legislation, now being studied by the public safety committee, would tighten provisions that deal with information sharing between federal agencies.

Therrien said the government needs to go further to achieve the right balance between security and privacy.

The Liberals say they have tried to find middle ground — in part by rolling back measures that alarmed civil libertarians.

The Conservatives gave the Canadian Security Intelligence Service explicit authority to derail terrorist threats, expanding the service’s traditional intelligence-collection mandate.

The Liberal legislation requires CSIS to seek a warrant for any threat reduction measure that would “limit” a right or freedom protected by the charter, and clarifies that a warrant can only be issued if a judge is satisfied the measure complies with the charter.

The bill would also create a new super-watchdog — the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency — to oversee the intelligence activities of more than a dozen federal agencies, including some, like the Canada Border Services Agency, that have never been subject to such review.

The government has also established a national security committee of MPs and senators with access to secret information to keep an eye on the intelligence world.

Therrien applauded these moves, saying the new bodies will be able to share confidential information and generally work together to produce well-informed and comprehensive reviews.

However, he said his office would not be able to legally share confidential information with the new review agency or the committee of parliamentarians.

It means the security bill’s objective of comprehensive review would fall short by leaving privacy experts out of the mix, Therrien said. Bringing the privacy commissioner’s office firmly within the family of review bodies would not only ensure the required expertise but enhance efficiency, he added.

Christian Leuprecht, a political science professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, warned against imposing undue constraints on the Canadian intelligence community given the grave global threats the country faces.

“We need to make sure that we strike an effective balance here,” he told the committee.

One provision in the bill takes aim at the recurring problem of mistaken no-fly list name matches involving youngsters, allowing the public safety minister to inform parents that their child is not on the roster.

In addition, under a revised appeal process, someone’s name would be dropped from the no-fly list if the minister does not deal with their appeal within 120 days. However, the minister would be able to extend the deadline before the first 120-day period expires.

Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association told the MPs the no-fly program is troubling because the process by which people are placed on the list remains opaque, and the proposed redress mechanisms are inadequate.

The current process allows for the use of hearsay and secret evidence without access to a special advocate who can test that evidence or represent the interests of the listed person, she added.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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