Communications Security Establishment Chief Greta Bossenmaier speaks with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale as they wait to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, in Ottawa on Thursday, November 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

‘Case not made’ for Liberal bill’s problematic cyberspy powers

The Liberal government’s ill-defined plan to give Canada’s cyberspy agency wide-ranging powers to go on the attack against threats could trample civil liberties

The Liberal government’s ill-defined plan to give Canada’s cyberspy agency wide-ranging powers to go on the attack against threats could trample civil liberties, warns a newly released analysis.

The report by leading Canadian cybersecurity researchers says there is no clear rationale for expanding the Communications Security Establishment’s mandate to conduct offensive operations.

“The case has not been made that such powers are necessary, nor that they will result in a net benefit to the security of Canadians.”

The 71-page report, made public today, was prepared by a team of five researchers from the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa.

It delves into intricacies of the sweeping Liberal security bill, tabled in June, that would give the CSE new authority to conduct both defensive and offensive cyberoperations. The report makes 45 recommendations to safeguard privacy and human rights.

The Ottawa-based CSE uses highly advanced technology to intercept, sort and analyze foreign communications for nuggets of intelligence that are of interest to the federal government. It is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Related: Federal government needs help tackling cyberthreats, internal report warns

The secretive CSE has been thrust into the headlines in recent years due to leaks by Edward Snowden, the former spy contractor who worked for the National Security Agency, the CSE’s American counterpart.

The Liberal legislation, which followed extensive public consultations, would give the CSE new muscle to engage in state-sponsored hacking and other covert measures. It would be authorized to interfere “with the capabilities, intentions or activities of a foreign individual, state, organization or terrorist group as they relate to international affairs, defence or security.”

However, what this exactly means isn’t clear, nor does the legislation require that the target of the CSE’s intervention pose some kind of meaningful threat to Canada’s security interests, the report says.

The previous Conservative government gave the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the national domestic spy service, the power to disrupt plots that threaten Canada, not just gather information about them. Disrupt could mean anything from defacing a website to sabotaging a vehicle.

The CSIS powers stirred controversy, raising fears of constitutional breaches, and the Liberal bill refines them to ensure consistency with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The analysis says the proposed new CSE powers ”have the capacity to be at least as invasive, problematic and rights-infringing” as activities conducted by CSIS in the course of its threat-reduction activities.

The authors recommend the CSE be required to obtain judicial warrants, much like CSIS does, before taking disruptive actions in cyberspace. At minimum, there should be a more robust plan for independent, real-time oversight of the CSE’s offensive activities.

Related: Human rights, cyber security to be part of Canada-China free trade consultations

They also caution that endorsing state-sponsored cyberoperations has serious international implications, and is ”likely to legitimize and encourage other states — including those with problematic human rights records — to do the same.”

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer up to 4 active COVID-19 cases

Province announced 77 new confirmed cases across Alberta Friday

Cilantro and Chive ‘Dad Bod’ Burger supports childrens mental health in Lacombe

$3,068 was donated to Lacombe Community Addiction and Mental Health Office– Children’s Services

Lacombe Raiders football begins delayed Spring Camp

Football players required to follow guidelines laid out by AHS

46 new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday in Alberta

Province has completed more than 500,000 COVID-19 tests

PODCAST: COVID-19 and the US Election

The Expert welcomes Burman University Political Scientist Marc Froese

PODCAST: The Expert tackles the return of sports

Cam Moon, Joe Whitbread, Byron Hackett and Todd Vaughan discuss how sports can come back

How Conservative leadership hopefuls would address the WE scandal if they win

The ethics commissioner has been called in to see if Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest law

With debt, deficit numbers out, experts say Liberals need plan for growth

Borrowing will push the federal debt past $1 trillion by the end of the fiscal year

Pedestrian-only downtown a hit with residents as St. John’s adapts to pandemic

‘The city really got this right this time. We’re very happy’

Bosnian-Canadians mark 25th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre

‘It’s sad for a child to think that it’s normal, actually, to … have family members killed’

PODCAST: COVID-19 and the US Election

The Expert welcomes Burman University Political Scientist Marc Froese

Sylvan Lake RCMP continue search for missing man

43-year-old Steven Hull’s last known whereabouts were in the Sylvan Lake area on May 28

Most Read