Minister Nicholson responds to CSE Commissioner’s Annual Report – August 20, 2014

CSE Commissioner's Annual Report

I thank Commissioner Plouffe, CSEC's independent watchdog, for his report. As a government, we agree with each of his recommendations and CSEC is currently working to implement them.

The watchdog has concluded that CSEC continues to operate within the law. He very clearly states that "all of the activities of CSEC reviewed in 2013-2014 complied with the law." With respect to protecting the privacy of Canadians, Commissioner Plouffe verified that CSEC's activities "do not intentionally target the private communications of Canadians or any person in Canada, which would be unlawful."

Commissioner Plouffe also expressed his concerns that "commentators are raising fears that are based, not on fact, but rather, on partial and sometimes incorrect information regarding certain CSEC activities." While many have focussed on reports of CSEC's unintentional interception of private communications, the fact is CSEC's independent watchdog found that "the number of recognized private communications unintentionally intercepted and retained by CSEC was small enough that (he) could review each of them individually."

In fact, he found that "all CSEC reports based on private communications contained foreign intelligence relating to international affairs, defence or security." As we have stated, and as Commissioner Plouffe confirms, "all private communications that were recognized by CSEC were intercepted unintentionally. There was no intention on CSEC's part in collecting these communications with a Canadian end; the Canadian end was in all cases incidental to CSEC's intentional targeting of a foreign entity outside Canada (the foreign end)."

Regarding the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, CSEC's independent watchdog notes that "former Commissioner Décary found that CSEC has substantial controls and measures in place to help ensure that its foreign signals intelligence information sharing with the Second Parties is lawful and protects the privacy of Canadians." In the course of his own review, current Commissioner Plouffe found that "CSEC conducts its foreign signals intelligence activities in a manner that is consistent with the agreement it has with its second party partners to respect the privacy of the partners' citizens, and to follow the partners' policies in this regard."

With respect to the use of metadata, Commissioner Plouffe confirmed that "metadata remains fundamental to CSEC's mandated activities. CSEC uses metadata, for example, to determine the location of a communication, to target the communications of foreign entities outside Canada, and to avoid targeting a Canadian or a person in Canada."

Finally, Commissioner Plouffe states that "There is no question that the scope of the powers that I have is sufficient to fully investigate CSEC. Also, the size of my budget and office are sufficient to conduct an adequate amount of meaningful review." He also says that "Like my predecessors, I remain confident that Chief Forster and CSEC take very seriously their responsibilities to comply with the law and protect the privacy of Canadians."

The report confirms the benefits of having an independent watchdog provide comprehensive and impartial oversight of CSEC, as is currently the case, as opposed to giving politicians greater involvement in matters of national security operations.

The Honourable Rob Nicholson,
Minister of National Defence