POLITICS

Watchdogs Warn Trudeau Government Security Shouldn't Trump Privacy

12/06/2016 11:16 EST | Updated 12/06/2016 12:38 EST

OTTAWA — Privacy commissioners from across the country are telling the Trudeau government to make respect for personal information a cornerstone of its revamped national security policy.

Federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien and all of his provincial and territorial counterparts have signed a joint submission to the government's security review.

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Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien speaks at press conference in Ottawa on Sept. 27, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

Therrien and privacy czars from two provinces — Ontario's Brian Beamish and Jean Chartier of Quebec — appeared in Ottawa today to discuss the submission.

It addresses key issues including information sharing, encryption and the collection and use of metadata by national security agencies and law enforcement.

"National security agencies have an important and difficult mandate in protecting all Canadians from terrorist threats and we believe they generally strive to do their work in a way that respects human rights," says the submission.

"But history has shown us that serious human rights abuses can occur, not only abroad but in Canada, in the name of national security."

"History has shown us that serious human rights abuses can occur, not only abroad but in Canada, in the name of national security."

In October, Therrien told a House of Commons committee it is crucial that there be more transparency about national security so that Canadians can better understand the issues.

Therrien said while there are obviously limits to transparency when national security is at stake, more can and should be done.

The government has requested public feedback on issues ranging from sharing information and preventing attacks to conducting surveillance and ensuring intelligence agencies are accountable.

In last year's election campaign, the Liberals promised to repeal "problematic elements" of omnibus security legislation, known as C-51, ushered in by the previous Conservative government.

Grits vowed to repeal 'problematic elements' of C-51

The bill gave the Canadian Security Intelligence Service explicit powers to disrupt terrorist threats, not just gather information about them.

The legislation also created a new offence of promoting the commission of terrorist offences and broadened the government's no-fly list powers.

In addition, it expanded the exchange of federally held information about activity that "undermines the security of Canada." Therrien has already said the government hasn't done enough to protect the privacy of "law-abiding Canadians" from the new information-sharing powers.

The Trudeau government has committed to ensure all CSIS warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to preserve legitimate protest and advocacy and to define terrorist propaganda more clearly.

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Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale speaks at RCMP headquarters in Regina on May 7, 2016. (Photo: Mark Taylor/CP)

The Liberals say they say will do a better job of balancing collective security with rights and freedoms.

Just last month a Federal Court judge ruled that CSIS violated the law by keeping potentially revealing electronic data over a 10-year period about people who were not targets of investigation.

CSIS processed the data beginning in 2006 through its Operational Data Analysis Centre to produce intelligence that can reveal specific details about individuals.

The improperly retained material was metadata — information associated with a communication, such as a telephone number or email address, but not the message itself.

It is believed to have included data trails related to friends or family members who knew targets of surveillance but were not themselves under investigation.

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