#CyberFLASH: CSIS, Bill C-51 and Canada’s growing metadata collection mess

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Much has been made over whether the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada’s spy agency, should be armed with broader powers to “disrupt” what it perceives as terrorist plots.

A report tabled this month by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which watches over CSIS’s work, notes that while the spy agency hasn’t abused its new powers of disruption, its bulk data collection program needs to be scaled back.

It’s easy to think of CSIS and other spy agencies as shadowy organizations that carry out James Bond-like “missions” involving cool gadgets and high-tech weaponry, but the Snowden leaks, among other revelations, have shown the public that metadata collection (online communications, phone logs and other electronic exchanges that can be intercepted in enormous amounts) now constitutes the state’s primary instrument of control.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien recently called upon legislators (the Liberals in particular) to amend certain aspects of Canada’s national security laws in order to address the issue of metadata collection.

In particular, Therrien referred to the Communications Security Establishment, which seems to get a lot less public scrutiny than CSIS. The CSE is responsible for collecting massive volumes of foreign communications through “signals-intelligence,” (or “sigint”), but also tends to drag up large amounts of Canadian metadata as well, which it isn’t supposed to be doing.

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