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Liberal-dominated committee rejecting many proposed changes to security bill

Last Updated Apr 23, 2018 at 7:00 pm EDT

OTTAWA – MPs have amended the government’s sweeping security bill with the aim of ensuring Canadian spies don’t infringe on privacy by randomly sifting through public data.

A Liberal-sponsored change approved Monday at a House of Commons committee would mean information in which Canadians have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is not included in the definition of “publicly available” data.

Canada’s cyberspy agency, the Communications Security Establishment, had told the committee it would use publicly available materials merely to provide general background information for a foreign intelligence or cybersecurity report, to assess the nationality of a person or organization, or to consult technical manuals.

But some civil libertarians had expressed concerns about the broadness of the bill’s definition, fearing it would lead to unwarranted mining of personal data in cyberspace.

The Liberal government sent its security bill for study by MPs at an early stage, along with the suggestion it would be open to changes. Until Monday, it had been mostly tweaks and tucks as the Commons public safety and national security committee went through the legislation, clause by clause.

Tim McSorley of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group had been hoping for acceptance of several changes, including measures to strengthen the independence of new security review bodies.

Heading into Monday’s hearing, the group was concerned “that some of the more important amendments aren’t being adopted into the bill.”

New Democrat public safety critic Matthew Dube wants the committee to scrap proposed powers that would allow the CSE to wage offensive cyber-operations. The NDP is also pushing for an end to powers that allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to disrupt terrorist plots.

The Liberal legislation, tabled in June, fleshes out campaign promises to revise elements of a contentious omnibus bill brought in by the Harper government after a gunman stormed Parliament Hill in October 2014.

It also opens the door to new paths for security services in data-crunching and cyberwarfare, and bolsters accountability and review through a new super-watchdog.

The Conservatives gave CSIS explicit authority to derail terrorist threats, expanding on the service’s traditional intelligence-collection mandate. However, many Canadians expressed concerns that such disruption activities could violate the Constitution.

The Liberal legislation requires CSIS to seek a warrant for any threat reduction measure that would “limit” a right or freedom protected by the charter and it clarifies that a warrant can only be issued if a judge is satisfied the measure complies with the charter.

The bill amends other elements of the Conservative legislation, tightening provisions on information-sharing among federal agencies, redefining terrorist propaganda and narrowing a general prohibition against promoting terrorism offences to the crime of counselling someone to commit a terrorist offence.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter