CSIS efforts to derail threats for the 2019 election have sometimes gone around the law: watchdog

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OTTAWA – Canada’s secret service has sometimes deviated from the law when attempting to disrupt threats from hostile foreign states during the 2019 election campaign, the national espionage watcher has found.

OTTAWA – Canada’s secret service has sometimes deviated from the law when trying to suppress threats from hostile foreign states in the 2019 election campaign, the national espionage watcher has found.

In a recent report, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency sheds new light on the use of powers of the Canadian intelligence agency, introduced six years ago, to actively counter threats.

Such actions could include CSIS modifying websites, blocking communications or financial transactions, and disrupting tools or devices.

The review center dealt with the current issue of the threat reduction measures adopted in the 2019 federal election, which are intended to ward off threats to Canada’s democratic institutions.

In the run-up to the election, the Canadian cyber espionage agency Communications Security Establishment warned of some kind of foreign online interference.

The CSE warned that interference in the extent of Russian interference against the 2016 US presidential election was unlikely.

However, Canada could expect foreign opponents to try to influence voters by focusing on polarizing social and political issues, promoting the popularity of one party over another, or trying to influence a candidate’s public statements and political decisions.

In its report, the Vetting Authority says most of the threat reduction measures taken by CSIS during the period met the requirements set out in the espionage legislation.

However, it came to the conclusion that in an unspecified number of cases the actions violated the CSIS Act, as there was no clear connection between a person affected by the action and the actual threat.

The Verifying Authority’s secret report was presented to the government in February, but a version with sensitive material deleted was only released this week. All the details of certain incidents have been cut from the document.

For all threat reduction measures investigated, the Verification Authority found that CSIS had fulfilled its obligations under a ministerial directive to consult government partners and conduct an assessment of the operational, political, foreign policy and legal risks of each measure.

The legal assessment of the measures by the Verification Authority took into account the requirements of the CSIS Act, according to which the espionage service “has reasonable grounds to believe that a certain activity poses a threat to the security of Canada” and that the measure is “appropriate and proportionate to the circumstances” is .”

Most of the measures “met the requirements of the CSIS law,” says the report.

In a “limited number of cases”, however, the involvement of persons “without a rational reference” by the espionage service meant that the measures were “not” appropriate and proportionate “within the meaning of the CSIS Act”.

One type of action – no description was provided – involved third parties acting on behalf of CSIS. Such a relationship would require CSIS to fully consider the impact of its actions on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and could require the espionage service to obtain arrest warrants before taking any action, the report said.

Overall, while the intelligence agency has applied its powers to the full range of national security threats, the use of threat reduction by CSIS “remains limited,” the report said.

The evaluation facility made recommendations, including developing an accountability framework for compliance with legal advice on threat reduction measures, such as documenting when and why such advice was not followed.

In a written response attached to the report, CSIS says that the Department of Justice is providing advice to ensure that measures remain lawful and that the rights of Canadians are respected, adding that the espionage service “carefully applies these principles and guidelines “.

CSIS spokesman John Townsend said Friday the service welcomed the review panel’s input “in a spirit of continuous improvement.”

“CSIS will always encourage high-quality discussion of national security issues, especially those that are justified in the Canadian context,” he said.

“In today’s dynamic threat environment, government, civil society and the private sector must work together to protect our national interests.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 26, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press



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