Why the secrecy on this "expert" centre?

Public Safety Canada confirms that this information gatekeeper exists, and notes the concept for it was briefly mentioned in the government's 2017 national security green paper. Yet there's not a word on it in the national security Bill C-59.

By Ken Rubin

June 13, 2019 - Public Safety has quietly set up a centre for expertise to assist security and intelligence departments in the responsible use of the Security of Canada Information Disclosure Act, known as SCIDA. Yet vitually no one knows about the centre, or what it is doing. This is worrisome.

SCIDA allows for Canadians' personal information to be shared by security intelligence agencies as part of national security Bill C-59. My interest in expertise centre'came about after I recently received a Public Safety briefing note marked "secret". It turns out the privacy commissioner, who, under the terms of Bill C-59, is to be consulted by security intelligence agencies and can review SCIDA's personal-data-sharing handling processes, has not heard of this centre either, nor has the public, MPs and the news media. 

A Public Safety official confirmed that the center exists and noted the concept for it was briefly mentioned in the government's 2017 National Security Green Paper. The centre has been renamed the Strategic Coordination Centre for Information Sharing and is housed internally under Public Safety's National Security Policy Directorate. 

But when Bill C-59 and its Security of Canada Information Disclosure Act provisions were introduced and debated in Parliament, no mention was made of this key gate keeping centre for information-sharing. Embedding the centre's existence in Bill C-59 would have given the centre a legal, transparent and accountable status. Instead, silence.
The centre's importance supposedly is that it will provide leadership and guidance to government institutions.on the sharing of information for national security purposes; will help coordinate information-sharing policy and activities; and will lead in the area of future policy development. That's even though the centre has no mandate or authority to perform any operational function in the sharing of information with, by or between government institutions for national security purposes.
Though not embedded in Bill C-59, the centre, could, in theory, be reviewed by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, given the agency???s broad mandate. But regular probes are not expected , as the centre will not be engage, either directly or indirectly, in the sharing of information about persons or entities with other government institutions.
The centre is also less likely to be reviewed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner as it ???will not be collecting, disclosing or retaining any personal information itself. But the centre may engage the privacy commissioner on policy development around information sharing, to inform it of developments and obtain advice. 

However, the Public Safety ministry, through its minister, its government operations centre, its partnership in cyber security and other responsibilities, does collect, use and share sensitive personal information. Back in March, 2017, the privacy commissioner issued a report that found significant defeciencies in the then-Bill C-51's Security of Canada Information Sharing Act operations. He recommended better privacy-protected record- keeping and training under stricter record retention, sharing and disposal rules. Security intelligence agencies responded indicating that they were setting up operational rules and agreements on sharing personal data. 

During Bill C-59 parliamentary hearings, the commissioner testified that the new information disclosure act (SCIDA) had better restrictions placed on security intelligence agencies collecting and sharing personal data, which would be subject to a new oversight agency, as well as his own review.
But the privacy commissioner was unaware of the Strategic Coordination Centre for Information Sharing, or its operational rules. So what, in practice, will the centre's role be and how transparent will it be? The centre could be a positive entity ??? both a training and restraining centre that would limit and report on what personal information security intelligence and law enforcement agencies can collect, keep, and use. Another possibility, however, is that the centre will become a negative none-too accountable, secretive centre that helps control information about Canadians gathered by security intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Civil liberty groups, political parties and the public will want to know why this personal information-sharing resource centre and its operation are not formally identified in Bill C-59 legislation and will want regular public information about its operation. 
It would have helped if Canadians, the media and the privacy commissioner had been kept abreast of the activities of this already key operating centre in the first place.

This story was first published by The Ottawa Citizen on June 13, 2019, and is republished here with the author's permission.

Ken Rubin has championed greater transparency for over five decades and is reachable at kenrubin.ca. He is an investigative public interest researcher, author and Senior Fellow at the Centre for Free Expression.

 

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