The independent body that monitors Communications Security Establishment Canada says the spy agency's metadata analysis effort wasn't about mass surveillance or the monitoring of Canadians.
The watchdog's assurances, however, left analysts with lingering questions about just what CSEC legally can _ and should _ do when it comes to sifting through digital communications that inevitably include Canadian content.
A CSEC document obtained last month by CBC _ originally leaked by former U.S. spy contractor
In a new posting on its website, the CSEC watchdog says it has since received a briefing from the spy agency, questioned employees involved in the project, and examined results of the data-crunching activity at issue.
"This activity is used by CSEC to understand global communications networks," says the watchdog's office, led by
"We concluded that this CSEC activity does not involve 'mass surveillance' or tracking of Canadians or persons in
The CBC story prompted a storm of concern about invasion of Canadians' privacy, putting Defence Minister
"Will the government notify any members of Parliament or Canadians who have been caught up in this data sweep?" Brison asked. "Will the minister initiate his own investigation into CSEC's activities, to reassure Canadians that their privacy has not been violated?"
The watchdog says in the new posting that such surveillance did not occur, adding that if CSEC were tracking the movements or online activities of people at a
Plouffe's statement that "no CSEC activity was directed at Canadians or persons in
These doubts should be assuaged with real law, he wrote Thursday in a blog posting. "And so the government needs to show its legal cards. It is long past the time when a bare assertion of legality suffices, when that assertion is based on a legal theory that no one outside of government has seen."
Overall, Plouffe must "get used to providing full public explanations for his findings," not brief summary judgments, if he is going to "satisfy skeptical Canadians that he is truly independent and truly capable of holding CSEC to account," Wark said.
The CSEC watchdog's comments echoed those of spy agency chief
Forster said CSEC aimed to build a mathematical model to help determine a communication pattern at a public location, in this case an airport.
CSEC is forbidden from targeting the private communications of Canadians such as emails and phone calls. However, metadata is not considered a private communication for the spy service's purposes.
Some civil libertarians, privacy advocates and academics say CSEC's metadata monitoring is worrisome because even such seemingly innocuous routing codes and digital stamps can reveal much about someone, such as their location and who they are contacting.
"Is CSEC currently collecting a comprehensive, or near comprehensive, or any kind of ongoing database of metadata concerning communications-related activity in
"And is it analyzing those activities for information relevant to its foreign intelligence targets, such as visits to websites associated with suspect causes?"
Forster has denied CSEC uses metadata to build profiles of Canadians. Rather, it helps the agency screen out the content of Canadian messages, he told the senators.
In a recent court filing, CSEC says metadata also helps it identify malicious foreign cyber-activity and better understand and discover foreign targets. "Metadata allows CSE, usually through automated tools, to filter information found on the global information infrastructure without looking at the content of any communications."
The watchdog's office says it is doing an in-depth review focused exclusively on metadata.
Wark said he suspects Canadians will not see the results of that review until summer or fall of next year.
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