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Canada's foreign intelligence agency admits it may 'incidentally' spy on its own citizens

Canada's foreign intelligence agency admits it may 'incidentally' spy on its own citizens


Disclosures represent first moves towards increased transparency

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Canada's Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the agency responsible for gathering Signals Intelligence, says it may "incidentally intercept" Canadian communications. The statement marks the first time the CSE, which is analogous in its responsibilities to the NSA, has admitted its work affects Canadian citizens. It comes from a new FAQ posted about the CSE's operations, which the agency says are "clearly and carefully targeted, by law, to the activities of foreign individuals states, organizations, or terrorist groups that have implications for Canada's international affairs, defense, or security."

In the same FAQ, the agency notes it's against the law for it to target Canadians either in Canada or abroad, or to request allies to do the same. The only exception to this rule, says the CSE, is if it's assisting another agency that has a valid legal claim or warrant. The agency is unspecific as to how often this happens or under which circumstances, but specifically points out that the exception, known as the Assistance Mandate, can be used as a legal basis for performing intercept operations against Canadians.

A direct response to Snowden leaks

Why the new transparency? The CSE tells Ottawa Citizen that it's an "initial response" to increased scrutiny brought on by Edward Snowden's revelatory disclosures on the NSA and other intelligence agencies. The CSE will reveal more information in the coming months in "as transparent a manner as possible while still respecting our security obligations."