#CyberFLASH: National electronic intelligence agency executive calls for ‘rational debate’ on encryption

cse-headquarters-file-jpg-size-custom-crop-1086x722OTTAWA–Canadians are being encouraged to ask more questions about the security of their electronic devices from an unlikely source — an executive at the country’s electronic intelligence agency.

Scott Jones, the deputy director of IT security at the Communications Security Establishment, said Canadians need to start taking a greater interest in how their electronic devices protect personal information.

“We should be asking when we go and buy the stuff we have at home, OK, tell me how it’s being protected,” Jones said in an interview.

“If it’s my cellphone, does it have encryption if I lose it? Can somebody just read the data off of it or not? We need to start asking questions like that … We need to start helping each other, and helping citizens, helping businesses, helping the government when we’re buying these products they need to be secure by default.”

It may come as a bit of a surprise to hear an employee at CSE counselling Canadians to protect private information. The agency, which has largely operated in secret since its creation at the end of the Second World War, was thrust into the spotlight after U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures.

CSE is part of the Five Eyes security alliance, which includes spy agencies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Snowden’s disclosures revealed the mass surveillance programs used by those countries, including programs that scooped up their own citizens’ data.

Jones’ comments also come as law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada are forcefully arguing for the need to limit encryption — calling for so-called “back doors” that would let authorities decode citizens’ data.

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