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

Candice Woloshyn prepares her flower beds for the next season at her ‘Dirty Girl Flowers’ farm in Merville. Despite the pandemic, Woloshyn was able to sustain her homegrown business as community members opted for regular deliveries of fresh cut flowers. Photo by Binny Paul/ Campbell River Mirror.
Vancouver Island flower farmers were blooming as the pandemic wilted everything else

Floriculturists saw increased subscriptions as fresh flowers became a ‘sight for sore eyes’ during isolation

Struggling to afford rent, Sylvia Bailey is hoping to trade her love of cooking for some more affordable accommodation. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Bailey)
Retired Victoria woman looking to cook, clean or garden in exchange for rent

Sylvia Bailey is hoping to use her love for cooking to help afford rent

View Royal Coun. John Rogers stands next to an unearthed home heating oil tank. As a way to prevent environmental disasters, he is lobbying for a provincial registration system and mandatory inspection for all above-ground tanks, as well as a requirement to remove any underground tanks not used for a prescribed period of time. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Efforts to regulate Greater Victoria home heating oil tanks continues

View Royal councillor part of movement to identify old tanks, prevent catastrophic leaks

International Bat Week (Oct. 24-31) is a time for people to learn more about the nocturnal creatures and how to protect them. (Photo by Cory Olson)
Holy Halloween, it’s Bat Week!

Bats have been getting a bad rap — B.C. Bat Program looks to change that

Wind and waves were part of the reason why the Sail Canada High Performance Team selected HMCS Quadra as the winter training base for Tokyo 2021. Photo by Ken Dool
National sailing team prepares for Olympics at Vancouver Island location

Sail Canada picks military facility at 19 Wing Comox for wind, waves and accommodations

Carolyn and Steve Touhey came across a pod of humpback whales while on their boat Sunday, Oct. 25. Photo supplied
VIDEO: Boaters encounter pod of humpbacks in Georgia Strait

Pod spotted between Comox and Texada Island

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

The voting station mimicked a real voting station in Nicole Choi’s classroom at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020, where students had to show their ID (student cards), be checked off a list, and mark a secret ballot behind a screen. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. students choose NDP majority in mock election

More than 90,000 youth took part in school-based election process

Crew transport bus at the Trans Mountain pipeline project work site in Burnaby, March 2020. (Trans Mountain)
Check your workplace COVID-19 safety plans, Dr. Henry urges

Masks in public spaces, distance in lunchrooms for winter

Kelowna City Hall has been vandalized overnight. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna City Hall hit by anti-pandemic vandalism

Graffiti condemning the virus appears overnight on City Hall

FILE – A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a “Wake and Bake” legalized marijuana event in Toronto on October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Home nurse visits could play big role in reducing cannabis use, smoking in young mothers

The program, dubbed the BC Healthy Connections Project, involves public health nursing home visits

Emergency crews respond to an apartment fire on Tuesday, Oct. 20. (PHOTO COURTESY JERRY FEVENS)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate possible arson

Fire was contained but three people displaced in aftermath

Most Read