Canada Privacy Officials Seek Changes To Oversee, Limit Government Surveillance

By Peter Menyasz  

Jan. 28 —The Canadian government should strengthen its privacy policies to ensure that actions taken in the name of national security don't have an adverse impact on Canadians' expectations for personal privacy, Chantal Bernier, the interim chief of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said in a Jan. 28 special report to Parliament.

Measures to improve transparency, modernize privacy statutes and boost Parliament's oversight are needed to address privacy in the context of national security, Bernier said in a statement accompanying the report.

“While a certain level of secrecy is necessary within intelligence activities, so is accountability within a democracy,” she said.


The report recommended that Parliament:

  •  improve oversight and reporting mechanisms, including requiring the agency Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) to disclose annual statistics on its communications interception activities on behalf of other federal agencies;
  •  modernize the federal privacy protection regime through amendments to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Privacy Act, including adding stronger provisions on exchanges of personal information with foreign authorities and investigations that exploit online sources and social network sites;
  •  increase legal recourse for individuals under the Privacy Act, which covers information maintained by the government; and
  •  strengthen accountability by increasing the powers of federal bodies that provide oversight for national security operations, clarify and update other legal authorities that govern intelligence operations and enhance Parliament's oversight of intelligence activities.

    Ontario DPA Comments

    The federal privacy office wasn't the only data protection authority in Canada calling for changes in the wake of surveillance revelations.

    Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian Jan. 28 issued a statement calling on the federal government to improve its transparency and accountability, particularly in the activities undertaken by the CSEC.

    Edward Snowden's “brave sacrifices” in releasing details of privacy-invasive activities by intelligence agencies in the United States have demonstrated the significant dangers associated with unchecked state powers, Cavoukian said.

    “Our silence is unacceptable, as we are now vulnerable to both indiscriminate data collection and warrantless surveillance,” she said. “The federal government needs to respond by ensuring that CSEC's surveillance powers are transparent and accountable so that our right to privacy remains protected. We can, and indeed must have, both privacy and security.”


    To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Menyasz in Ottawa at

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at

    The report, “Checks and Controls: Reinforcing Privacy Protection and Oversight for the Canadian Intelligence Community in an Era of Cyber-Surveillance,” is available at