Watchdog urges Canada spy agency to do more to respect privacy

OTTAWA Wed Aug 20, 2014 5:30pm EDT

OTTAWA Aug 20 (Reuters) - Canada's electronic spy agency should tighten up its procedures for handling the private calls and emails it intercepts, and clarify how it expects the United States and other allies to use such material, a government watchdog said on Wednesday.

The report by Commissioner Jean-Pierre Plouffe, a retired judge, examined the work of Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), a secretive body that like the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitors electronic communication and helps protect national computer networks.

CSEC has run into repeated criticism over allegations that it has improperly intercepted Canadians' calls or emails, and that it had given too free a rein to the NSA as part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network that also includes Britain, New Zealand and Australia.

"My review did not reveal any systemic deficiencies or issues that require follow-up review," he wrote in the report.

However, he made a number of recommendations to try to protect the of privacy of Canadians.

If CSEC targets a potentially threatening group outside Canada, it might intercept calls or emails made to a person in the country. Plouffe recommended that they be swiftly marked either for deletion or essential to national security.

If they are deemed essential, they should each be reexamined every quarter to verify they are still required.

The government should also issue a directive to CSEC on information sharing with its Five Eyes partners that sets out how the privacy of Canadians should be protected, he added.

CSEC itself should "promulgate guidance to formalize and strengthen practices for addressing potential privacy concerns" involving the Five Eye partners. (Reporting by Randall Palmer.; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Andre Grenon)

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