Commissioner's Message

In this, my first annual report, I want to set the record straight on what the Office of the CSE Commissioner does, how we do it and the way we develop reports. Unlike what has been publicly speculated over the past year, my role as Commissioner is to ensure Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) is conducting its activities in a manner compliant with the law. Indeed, that is a good part of the reason why I accepted the position of CSE Commissioner last October. I do not wish to live in a society where the state makes unjustified intrusions into its citizens' privacy. Nor, however, do I wish to live in a country where the security both of its citizens and of the nation itself is not a priority of the government, especially at this time when increasingly serious and complex challenges threaten our national interests.

My job of independent and external review is focused squarely on CSEC and whether its operational activities respect the law and the privacy of Canadians. CSEC's legislated mandate has clear provisions and limitations on its activities when it comes to protecting the privacy of Canadians.

An intense public debate was sparked by unauthorized disclosures of classified documents by Edward Snowden, a former contractor to the United States' National Security Agency (NSA), about activities of the NSA, as well as of CSEC and its other Five Eyes partners (in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand). I am concerned that commentators are raising fears that are based, not on fact, but rather, on partial and sometimes incorrect information regarding certain CSEC activities. I want to reassure Canadians, especially those who are skeptical about the effectiveness of review of intelligence agencies, that I am scrupulously investigating those CSEC activities that present the greatest risks to compliance with the law and to privacy. Rest assured that I will do so with the requisite vigour and all the powers of the Inquiries Act necessary to arrive at comprehensive conclusions. I will make public as much information as possible about these investigations, their resulting conclusions and any recommendations. Transparency is important to maintain public trust.

I am also staying current with developments in CSEC's world, whether those developments concern technological capabilities, organizational changes or legal issues. I will inform the Minister of National Defence if I conclude that there is any law, direction or policy that I believe is not clear or effective in terms of ensuring compliance and the protection of privacy. However, it is for Parliament to determine whether the scope of CSEC activities is to be changed. I am prepared to appear before parliamentary committees and contribute to any such discussions.

The right to privacy is a fundamental tenet of a free and democratic society. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that Canadians can enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy. In a free and democratic society, however, there are certain cases where a need for a limit on the privacy of an individual can be demonstrably justified.

CSEC collects foreign signals intelligence in order to protect Canada's national interests, including against a number of foreign-based threats such as terrorism, espionage, cyber attacks, kidnappings of Canadians abroad or attacks on Canadian embassies. In collecting this intelligence, it is unavoidable that CSEC will obtain some information about Canadians. The National Defence Act prohibits CSEC from targeting the private communications of a Canadian. However, at the same time, it does permit CSEC to use and retain a private communication that is intercepted under a ministerial authorization if: the interception is the result of targeting a foreign entity outside of Canada; the information is essential to international affairs, defence or security; and satisfactory measures are in place to protect the privacy of Canadians. Parliament would not have introduced requirements, in the National Defence Act, for the protection of information about Canadians, if its intent was to prohibit CSEC from using and retaining intercepted information about Canadians. However, each particular piece of information about a Canadian is subject to a privacy interest and this is a focus of each of my reviews. I also verify that CSEC's activities do not intentionally target the private communications of Canadians or any person in Canada, which would be unlawful.

Over the years, my office has found that CSEC deletes almost all of the small number of recognized foreign signals intelligence private communications unintentionally intercepted by its collection programs. This year, to increase the assurance that I can provide to the public in this report, I directed my employees to examine all – rather than a sample – of these private communications that were used or retained by CSEC. The results of this review are described in detail in the highlights section of this report.

I welcome the engagement of Canadians in considering the role of foreign signals intelligence and cyber defence activities in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, and in reconciling the requirements of privacy on the one hand, and public safety and national security on the other. This debate is further complicated by rapid technological developments, particularly in the area of telecommunications, which have far-reaching implications for privacy, cyber defence activities, and intelligence collection. It is my goal to carry on my predecessor's work to be more informative and transparent about the activities of my office and of CSEC. To this end, we have posted additional information on the office website concerning current issues and how we go about our work. Other measures include discussions with media representatives and academics, as well as participation in a number of conferences on privacy and security to explain our work and to learn about public perspectives. As we continue our public outreach, I look forward to feedback on our efforts.

Given the increased interest of the public over this past year in the activities of my office, I want to take advantage of this opportunity to better inform Canadians. This year's report also repeats some background information, which I believe is necessary in the current context for readers to fully understand my review of CSEC.

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