Privacy Advocates Troubled by CSIS Spy Centre’s Use of Personal Information

    May 08, 2017

    According to, an obscure centre run by Canada’s spy agency has long been using personal details gleaned from security clearance forms to help with national security probes.

    In April, privacy and security experts said newly disclosed letters from within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) Operational Data Analysis Centre stress the need for additional safeguards to rein in digital sleuthing.

    The unveiled correspondence indicates that for at least five years the CSIS data analysis centre has used private information that was provided during security assessments for employment and immigration purposes – applying it to efforts to combat terrorism and espionage.

    The little-known analysis centre became a focus of intense public concern last November when a federal judge said CSIS violated the law by keeping electronic data trails about people who were not actually under investigation.

    The screening program helps the government prevent newcomers who pose a threat from entering Canada and acquiring legal status. It is also intended to ensure people of security concern do not gain access to classified information, sensitive sites, or major events.

    A 2011 privacy commissioner letter said that people should be told the data they provide to CSIS may be used “for purposes beyond the provision of security assessment services, such as general law enforcement, national security, or within the context of an investigation.”

    In November 2012, CSIS told the commissioner’s office that while the data analysis centre was using assessment data to help with security probes, existing measures addressed the privacy watchdog’s concerns.

    The intelligence service noted that people who need a federal security clearance must complete a screening form that says their personal information will be stored in a CSIS personal information bank. A publicly available description of that bank says the data may be used for data-matching or for the purpose of conducting lawful investigations, the CSIS letter added.

     This monthly advisory contains brief summaries of recent legislative and regulatory issues that may affect the management of records and information in Canada.

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