Statement from the Minister of National Defence on the CSE Commissioner’s Annual Report for 2014-2015

Today, the Annual Report for 2014-2015 of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, the Honourable Jean-Pierre Plouffe was tabled in the House of Commons. The Commissioner’s Annual Report is a valuable means by which CSE remains accountable to me, to Parliament, and to the Canadian people.

In this year’s report, the Commissioner provided eight recommendations to improve the way CSE operates. I have met with Mr. Plouffe, and advised him that I support his recommendations.

One of the reviews in the report makes reference to certain legal questions around CSE metadata activities. CSE discovered, on its own, that certain types of metadata were not being properly protected prior to sharing with allies, due to technical deficiencies in CSE systems. CSE proactively informed the Commissioner about these matters, and suspended the sharing of this metadata to Canada’s partners. The Commissioner has since concluded the legal assessment associated with this review and reported his finding to me and the Attorney General of Canada.

The metadata in question that was shared with Canada’s partners did not contain names or enough information on its own to identify individuals. Taken together with CSE’s suite of privacy protection measures, the privacy impact was low. I am reassured that the Commissioner’s findings confirm the metadata errors that CSE identified were unintentional, and am satisfied with CSE’s proactive measures, including suspending the sharing of this information with its partners and informing the Minister of Defence. I have consulted with the Attorney General who also supports my decision to accept the Commissioner’s recommendations. CSE will not resume sharing this information with our partners until I am fully satisfied the effective systems and measures are in place.  

Metadata is the information about communications used by computer systems to identify, manage or route communications over networks. It does not include the content of a communication. For example, it does not include the content of emails, phone calls or text messages. Metadata is used to understand complex and changing networks, discover and analyse foreign intelligence targets and their social networks and identify cyber threats. It helps us understand how foreign actors, such as terrorist groups, cyber actors or hostile intelligence agencies use networks and systems. When we understand how they communicate, we can discover motivations, intentions, capabilities and activities of these actors, and work with other Government of Canada agencies to stop threats before they materialize.

CSE helps protect Canada and Canadians by collecting foreign signals intelligence based on Government of Canada intelligence priorities, helps protect electronic systems and networks against cyber-attacks and assists federal law enforcement and security agencies. CSE cyber defence analysts use metadata to discover cyber threats from foreign states, criminals and other threat actors who are trying to extract information from Canada’s systems, or are attempting to disrupt service on Canada’s critical electronic networks by using malicious software or malware.

The protection of the privacy of Canadians is a fundamental principle for CSE, guiding its mission to contribute to the security of our nation and of our citizens while maintaining the public interest.

This demonstrates why the proposed statutory committee of Parliamentarians to review security-related issues is so essential. The committee will be instrumental in helping the government meet its stated goal of strengthening national security oversight.  

The government will introduce legislation to create a statutory committee of Parliamentarians with special access to classified information to review departments and agencies with national security responsibilities. We are committed to ensuring the safety of Canadians while protecting our collective rights and freedoms.

Finally, I have directed CSE to find new opportunities to communicate with the public more openly about their activities, while still protecting sensitive information as appropriate.

The Honourable Harjit Sajjan,
Minister of National Defence

CSE Commissioner's Annual Report