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CSIS Director Opening remarks at SECU

December 08, 2016

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and Members of the Committee. Thank you for the invitation to speak with you about the recent Federal Court decision. I am, of course, pleased to answer any of your questions. 

As Canada’s national intelligence service, our mandate is to identify, investigate and advise government of threats to the security of Canada.

To fulfill our mandate, we rely on a range of investigative techniques. Irrespective of the technique employed, operational activity must be authorized, reasonable and proportionate; this, in consideration of the nature of the threat.

When required and with the approval of the Minister, CSIS may make an application to the Federal Court to obtain warrants against subjects of investigation. These warrants, which are granted by the Federal Court, authorize the use of specific investigative techniques in accordance with specific conditions identified by the Court, as appropriate.  

One such technique is the interception of communications. When CSIS intercepts communications, it obtains the content, as well as the associated data linked with that communication. Associated data is the context, not the content of a communication. Such data is used by computer systems to identify, describe, manage or route communications across a network. On its own, it does not identify individuals who are party to a communication.

Whereas CSIS analyses the content of communications intercepted under warrant to determine whether or not it is to be retained or destroyed, and continues to do so, in 2006 CSIS adopted the position of retaining and exploiting associated data to enhance our ability to detect threats.  

It is important to note that CSIS collects this associated data legally, through warrants issued by the Federal Court. At issue, however, is the Service’s retention of associated data lawfully collected under warrant and, in particular, our decision to retain all such associated data, including that which may be non-threat related associated data linked to third party communications.

The Court also clearly pronounced on the Service’s duty of candour, finding that CSIS had breached its duty of candour by not informing the Court of its position on the retention of associated data and the creation of the Operational Data Analysis Centre, commonly known as ODAC. I can assure you that this was not deliberate.

I agree that the Court should have been informed earlier of our approach to the retention of associated data and the establishment of ODAC. Key government stakeholders were informed of these matters. Former Ministers of Public Safety, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the Inspector General of CSIS were all briefed on the existence of ODAC and the value of data analytics to CSIS investigations.  Clearly the Service was not attempting to keep our data analytics program a secret.

Mr. Chair, as I stated in my remarks on November 3rd, I accept the Court’s decision and have taken immediate action to respond. I acknowledge the Court’s serious concerns, and am committed to continue efforts to address them. 

Immediately after the Court’s decision was issued, CSIS halted access to, and analysis of, all associated data. While we did so out of an abundance of caution, the Service has begun to allow access to and use of the associated data of threat-related communications. We did so because the Service unquestionably has the authority to retain this information and its use is necessary to protect public safety.  Efforts are also under way to develop and implement appropriate policies and procedures that clearly address the Court’s concerns. I would like to note that the decision acknowledged the value of data analytics to the Service’s investigations.

CSIS and the Department of Justice are also working together closely to develop measures aimed at ensuring that we meet our obligations to the Court in matters of transparency and duty of candour. I would also note that, as indicated by the Minister of Public Safety, SIRC has been briefed and will be reviewing the Service’s response to this decision and submitting a report to the Minister.

Mr. Chair, and Members of the Committee, let me be clear: CSIS, in consultation with the Department of Justice, interpreted the CSIS Act to allow for the retention of non-threat-related associated data linked to third party communications collected under warrant.

Though it is now clear that the Federal Court disagreed with this interpretation, and we accept this, CSIS was not knowingly exceeding the scope of the CSIS Act.

I wish to reiterate that CSIS recognizes the importance of compliance with the CSIS Act, as well as openness and transparency with the Court.

And with that, Mr. Chair, I will conclude my remarks and welcome any questions.

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