Is it time for parliamentary oversight of CSEC?

The House is seized with new allegations

Question Period this morning was seized with CBC’s report of last night that the Communications Security Establishment Canada obtained information via the wi-fi network at a Canadian aiport and used it to track passengers.

Just four days, Ontario’s privacy commissioner lamented in an op-ed that there was insufficient parliamentary oversight of CSEC. Liberal MP Wayne Easter has tabled a bill that would establish a “National Security Committee” and last fall NDP MP Jack Harris put a motion before the House. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal has also expressed his concerns and the former head of CSEC has suggested a parliamentary committee could be useful. (Note: It’s not quite a new idea.)

There are various considerations here, including not just national security, but accountability, committee design, parliamentary privilege and partisanship. Nicholas MacDonald reviewed the idea and some of the international models in an essay for Canadian Parliamentary Review in 2011. And the Institute for Research of Public Policy released a report, authored by Reg Whitaker and Stuart Farson, in 2009. (Confession: I’ve not read that report in its entirety.)

Update 3:51pm. The Liberals will use their opposition day on Tuesday to have the House debate the following.

That the House express its deep concern over reports that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been actively and illegally monitoring Canadians and call on the government to immediately order CSEC to cease all such actives and further increase proper oversight of CSEC, through the establishment of a National Security Committee of Parliamentarians, as laid out in Bill C-551.

C-551 is Mr. Easter’s bill.

On Monday afternoon, the head of CSIS, the head of CSEC and the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor will appear before the Senate’s national security and defence committee.

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