The CSE Commissioner's mandate under section 273.63 of the National Defence Act consists of three important functions:
- reviewing the activities of Communications Security Establishment (CSE) to determine whether they comply with the law;
- undertaking any investigation the Commissioner deems necessary in response to a written complaint about CSE; and
- informing the Minister of National Defence and the Attorney General of Canada of any CSE activities that the Commissioner believes may not be in compliance with the law.
Under the National Defence Act, the CSE Commissioner must be a supernumerary or retired judge of a superior court. His main responsibilities are to review the lawfulness of CSE activities and to verify that CSE takes sufficient measures to protect the privacy of Canadians.
The Commissioner's legislative mandate includes:
- full independence, at arm's length from government and with a separate budget granted by Parliament;
- all the powers of a Commissioner under Part II of the Inquiries Act , including full access to all CSE facilities, files and systems; and
- full access to CSE personnel, including the power of subpoena to compel individuals to answer questions.
The Commissioner sends classified reports on his reviews to the Minister of National Defence. As the minister responsible for CSE, the Minister of National Defence can — and does — direct CSE to implement the Commissioner's recommendations.
The Commissioner determines the contents of his reports, which are based on facts and conclusions drawn from those facts. The reports are free from any interference by CSE or any minister.
By law, the Minister of National Defence must table the Commissioner's public annual report in Parliament.
Under section 15 of the Security of Information Act, the Commissioner also has a mandate to receive information from persons who are permanently bound to secrecy if they believe it is in the public interest to release special operational information of CSE.
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