Mark Collins – Canadian SIGINT: “CSE: What do we know? What do we need to know?”

Excerpts from the start and end of a post at Bill Robinson’s essential Lux Ex Umbra blog:

A summary version of the presentation I made at the  Sécurité internationale, sécurité intérieure: connexions et fractures colloquium at Laval University on October 6th…

A broader question relates to uncertainties in the proper interpretation of the laws that pertain to CSE’s activities. In this respect, not even CSE really knows if it obeys the law. In many cases, the courts have simply not addressed these questions.

This could change as a result of the BCCLA and CCLA court challenges currently underway.

My final thought with respect to CSE and the law is, why wouldn’t we expect it obey the law (at least, as the agency understands it)?

There is every reason to believe that compliance with the law is a fundamental part of CSE’s ethos, and if the government wanted the agency to do something not currently legal, it could probably manage to make it legal. It’s the government that writes the laws after all, although that power is somewhat checked by the courts.

The question of whether the government will grant itself additional “lawful access” powers is currently back on the parliamentary agenda.

The question of compliance with the law is certainly important.

But, for me, the greater concern is what’s being done, or could be done, entirely within the law.

It may be that CSE’s activities related to Canadians are comparatively minor and tightly constrained. But they might also be quite a lot larger than the information that is currently public suggests. We just don’t know.

And the potential for excessive, intrusive surveillance will only grow in the future.

Which leads to my final question:

I don’t have a lot of answers to this question.

Maybe we can rely on “sunny ways”?


(The photo shows Prime Minister Trudeau addressing CSE employees at the Edward Drake Building in June 2016. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time a prime minister visited CSE.)

More seriously, a number of proposals have been made to improve the oversight/review mechanisms and reform the legal regime pertaining to CSE and other members of the Canadian intelligence community [See “Under PM’s Thumb: Proposed Canadian Parliamentary Security/Intel Review Committee“].

I will now punt this question to people who know what they are talking about, such as Kent Roach and Craig Forcese.

Thank you.

A recent post based on Prof. Forcese:

“Canada’s Security & Intelligence Community after 9/11: Key Challenges and Conundrums”

More here on CSE.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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