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Privacy and our spy agencies

By Phil Gurski      

Spies act in the shadows for obvious reasons: does this mean they are constrained by privacy issues? We can, and should, have laws in place to protect our privacy, but we must also allow CSIS to carry out its legislated mandate.

CSIS director David Vigneault, pictured May 13, 2019, at the House Public Safety and National Security Committee meeting on the Hill. The Hill Times file photograph by Andrew Meade

OTTAWA—Why do we have intelligence agencies? Have you ever asked yourself that? The agencies, which work in this world, do so secretly for reasons I would hope we understand, if not totally accept. They gather information from human sources, some of whom are placed in very dangerous situations such as requiring them to infiltrate terrorist cells. Outing these brave people could get them killed. They also intercept communications, either domestically under a court-granted warrant—what we at CSIS call a “Section 21 warrant” and the RCMP calls a “Part VI” warrant—or without (what CSE does, provided the information it collects does not belong to Canadians). Disclosing how we collect data leads to data sources drying up: trust me, I saw this happen while at CSE. In sum, all this cannot be done openly, hence the insistence that “sources and methods” remain secret/classified.

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