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.

Just Posted

Cowichan doc spurs octogenarian dad to develop low-cost ventilator for COVID-19 patients

Graham Brockley takes concept to his dad who is trying to develop it to save lives

VIDEO: Man breaks up Saanich road rage fight

Two men were throwing punches on Tillicum Road

Victoria brewery uses 3D-printer to make face shields for health care workers

Phillips Brewing is teaming up with engineers to create single-use medical equipment

Saanich man serving life for notorious double murder-for-hire granted day parole

Derik Christopher Lord, convicted in 1992 Huenemann case, fathered a child in custody

EDITORIAL: Social distancing means some sacrifice, please make it

Thank your frontline workers and protect your loved ones, don’t leave home unless you really have to

First Nations, remote communities need special attention in pandemic, Freeland says

Health-care workers, seniors, Indigenous Peoples some of people most at risk, health officials say

Vancouver Island teachers show the love for their students

Virtual message meant to give families hope in uncertain times

COVID-19 has been impacting Canadian economy since January

But full effects of pandemic won’t be known for months

Doctors trained abroad want to join front lines of COVID-19 fight in Canada

B.C. is looking to allow internationally trained doctors to work under the supervision of attending physicians

Fake test kits and other COVID online scams play on public anxiety: fraud centre

Vancouver has seen a spike in commercial property crimes, with offices and stores empty because of COVID-19

Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

Subsidy will cost Canada $71 billion, but push down cost of emergency benefit, Morneau said

Feds amplify stay-home message as cost of financial aid to Canadians mounts

Liberals have unveiled around $200B in direct financial aid and tax deferrals

‘We will get through this’: B.C. sees new COVID-19 death, but 57% have recovered

A total of 1,066 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

World COVID-19 update: Six million U.S. jobless claims; Russia sends medical aid to U.S.

Comprehensive update with COVID-19 news from around the world

Most Read