By Ann Cavoukian
Information Privacy Commissioner of Ontario
I have been deeply concerned by the steady stream of revelations arising from Edward Snowden, especially around the activities of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) and its role in the so-called “Five Eyes” signals intelligence alliance. While Canadians continue to be kept in the dark about CSEC’s activities, journalist Glen Greenwald has warned there will be much more to come on Canada’s secretive surveillance activities. This begs the question, what else has CSEC been doing that Canadians should be worried about? The Canadian government must be accountable to its citizens across the country. That means stronger transparency and oversight regimes must be put in place.
This is why I am heartened by the Bill being introduced in the House of Commons yesterday by Mr. Wayne Easter, the Member of Parliament for Malpeque. The creation of a parliamentary committee to provide oversight for all agencies responsible for national security, and the requirement for the Prime Minister to table the committee’s report to Parliament are important components to providing accountability and transparency. While the bill may not give committee members sufficient authority to peer behind the veil of secrecy surrounding national security powers and programs, I see Mr. Easter’s bill as a proposal worthy of consideration, debate, and ultimately passing into law.
I also believe that we need to review how CSEC’s operations are authorized. While there has been much criticism of the overly secretive U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, at least it provides for a degree of judicial control over many of the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities. While the U.S. Congress pushes ahead with improving its system of oversight, there is no equivalent in Canada whatsoever. The only gate-keeper limiting CSEC’s power to conduct intelligence gathering is the Minister of National Defence, lacking entirely in independence. Why have the courts been kept out of the equation here in Canada? After all, the courts are well situated to ensure that both necessary surveillance proceeds, and Canadians simultaneously enjoy rigorous privacy protections – not one to the exclusion of the other.
What holds us back from ensuring the proper governance of state surveillance today? This confusion flows from flawed, zero-sum (either/or) thinking. We must reverse the flawed view that we can only have security by foregoing privacy and government transparency – we do not, and must not. Quite the opposite – we must preserve our privacy, which forms the basis of our freedoms – now, and well into the future. Canadians deserve no less than their neighbors to the south.