After months of denying it spies on Canadians, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) now admits it may “incidentally” read or hear Canadians’ communications.
“The National Defence Act acknowledges that this may happen and provides for the minister of national defence to authorize this interception in specific circumstances,” CSE said in a new posting on its website. “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.”
CSE also admits it’s allowed to help CSIS, the Mounties and Canada Border Services Agency “in a variety of circumstances — including intercept operations against a Canadian or individuals in Canada.”
“Incidental” means that the person on the Canadian end of the communication was not the “target” of the collection, but it does not mean that the collection of that communication was unintentional. For CSE, the fact that it has been able since 2001 to collect communications that either begin or end in Canada (as long as the target of the collection is outside of Canada) is a feature, not a bug.
Note that the communications so acquired are also used and retained. Yes, there are elaborate procedures in place to protect the privacy of Canadians and persons in Canada, and there is every reason to believe that those procedures are taken very seriously by CSE, but if the information acquired corresponds to the government’s intelligence collection priorities, it is retained and it is used.
Describing such collection as “incidental” and implying that it is always unintentional is deliberately — and pointlessly — misleading.
The claims by CSE that it doesn’t spy on Canadians raised a few eyebrows among those who have kept tabs on the spy agency. Some found CSE claims simply unbelievable.
For instance, readers may recall the case of Fred/Stock in the 1990s. Stock went public, noting that he was forced out of CSE in 1993 after objecting to the organization’s emphasis on collecting economic intelligence and targeting civilian communications. Stock also said the agency received intelligence on a regular basis about environmental protest actions, focused largely on Greenpeace and its protests on the high seas.
CSEC began to slightly pull back the curtain on its operations by updating its website shortly before Christmas.
That followed months of controversy over its work, after documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed CSEC spied on Brazil’s Energy Ministry, authorized/assisted NSA spying on the 2010 G8/G20 summits in Toronto, and spied on countries (including trading partners) through covert sites for the NSA.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 6, 2014