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CSEC Admits They "Incidentally" Spy on Canadians

Posted by Matt on January 08, 2014         Tagged with: surveillance, csec

As I've mentioned before, the Communications Security Establishment is not supposed to "target" Canadians in it's surveillance efforts. Of course, the extent to which this actually protects Canadians depends on how you interpret the word "target". CSEC has a new website up, and it contains this carefully worded admission:

However, in the course of targeting foreign entities outside Canada in an interconnected and highly networked world, it is possible that we may incidentally intercept Canadian communications or information. The National Defence Act acknowledges that this may happen and provides for the Minister of National Defence to authorize this interception in specific circumstances. If a private communication is incidentally intercepted (e.g. a foreign individual we are targeting overseas is communicating with someone in Canada), CSE takes steps to protect the privacy of that information.

This shouldn't surprise anyone. It makes perfect sense. If you're spying on foreigners, of course there's a risk you'll accidentally sweep up some communications that involve Canadians. The use of the word "target" in the legislation was probably a conscious choice to allow for exactly this sort of thing. The important question is: what are the steps that are taken to protect the privacy of that information?

Obviously, CSEC isn't going to tell us and they're probably very case-specific anyway. But with the recent revelation that Canadian intelligence agency lawyers lied to judges to get warrants, I'm not sure anyone is in the mood to trust them to do the right thing on their own.