Activities of the Commissioner's Office

At the beginning of my term as Commissioner, my office provided me a series of briefings to introduce the overall operations and activities that are conducted under the Commissioner's authority. CSEC subsequently provided me with numerous detailed information sessions on legal, operational, technical and administrative issues respecting its activities. I want to thank Chief Forster and his team for these important briefings, during which I also had the opportunity to meet many CSEC senior managers and personnel.

During the past year, CSEC also provided a number of detailed briefings to employees of my office as part of the conduct of reviews. As well, CSEC provided an annual overview briefing on recent and important operational, policy and organizational changes and issues. Several of my employees sat in as observers on CSEC training courses on foreign signals intelligence and on IT security activities.

Transparency and communications

During the past year, following disclosures of classified documents by former U.S. NSA contractor Edward Snowden, my office and I responded to a dramatic increase in the number of requests by the media and academics for information about my role and activities. In the past, it was difficult for the Commissioner and the office to gain the attention of more than a handful of journalists and academics with specialized interests. General public awareness was minimal. Times have changed. Now, aside from the increase in requests for information, my office and I have been receiving more requests for participation in various conferences and meetings.

In November 2013, as part of the Canadian Association of Security and Intelligence Studies symposium in Ottawa, the Executive Director of my office participated in a panel discussion on "Intelligence Collection and Accountability: Getting the Balance Right." Also participating in the panel were a senator and a number of academics with expertise in national security law and privacy. The Executive Director explained the Commissioner's mandate, powers and activities, as well as the impact of review, and corrected certain misconceptions, for example, related to the Commissioner's independence and capacity, and to CSEC authorities, judicial warrants and ministerial authorizations.

As a result of the various issues raised publicly during this past year, and questions about the Commissioner's role and office, we added information to the office website in a question-and-answer format. The purpose was to clarify the issues, to dispel some misconceptions and to correct inaccuracies.

In December 2013, the Executive Director and I appeared before the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. I welcomed this opportunity so early in my mandate to discuss the raison d'être of my position as Commissioner and to provide the committee with concrete examples of the impact of my work as an independent entity within the Canadian security and intelligence community. I would welcome additional invitations from the Senate or from a House of Commons committee to discuss my role, activities and any issues of concern.

In February 2014, the Executive Director participated in the 15th Annual Privacy & Security Conference, "Harnessing the Power of the Digital Storm: Can We Have It All?," in Victoria, British Columbia. In a panel session entitled "Privacy and Security: A False Dichotomy?" that also included the SIRC Executive Director and a law professor from the University of Alberta, the Executive Director addressed questions about the Commissioner's mandate and topics of current media attention. (A copy of the Executive Director's opening remarks can be found on the office's website.)

Also in February, the Executive Director joined a lawyer from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and a University of Ottawa law professor specializing in national security in a debate organized by The Globe and Mail and published both in print and on-line. The session, "Privacy or national security: Have spy agencies gone too far?" included discussion of metadata, the role of the Commissioner and the impact of review.

To contribute further to informing the public, detailed information on our activities was added to the office's website, as noted, to clarify misconceptions and to address issues raised about the role and work of the Commissioner. The website is still being enhanced, with more detail to come about how my office and I review the operational activities of CSEC. My aim is to help reassure the public that I, as Commissioner, have full access to CSEC, its personnel, facilities and systems, and that the review process and my investigations are probing, rigorous and as detailed as necessary to allow me to determine whether CSEC has complied with the law and has adequately protected the privacy of Canadians.

Finally, this past year, my office made a total of seven presentations to new CSEC employees attending a course that is mandatory for them to take in order to work at CSEC. The presentations consist of an overview of my office, the type of work we do and what to expect if the activity or area they are involved in is subject to review by my office.

Review bodies working cooperatively

In December 2013, the Review Agencies Forum, which consists of employees of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, SIRC, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and my office, met to discuss issues of common interest and compare best practices in review methodology. A senior manager from the Privy Council Office provided a brief on national security issues. Officials also discussed cooperation among review bodies.

My office also organized a one-day training workshop, held in November, for new employees of the review bodies, in order to enhance the effectiveness of independent review. 

This year, my office and I will continue to work with Review Agencies Forum partners to explore opportunities for the conduct of coordinated or joint reviews under existing legislation.

During the past year, my predecessor, and then myself, met with the former Privacy Commissioner of Canada and I met with the Interim Privacy Commissioner to discuss issues of mutual concern. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner oversees the entire public service as well as federally regulated businesses for compliance with, respectively, the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. My position as CSE Commissioner was created specifically to review CSEC for compliance, including for the protection of the privacy of Canadians. The Privacy Commissioner and I will continue to cooperate on shared priorities.

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