The 2015-2016 departmental reports on plans and priorities, otherwise known as Part III of the Estimates, were tabled in parliament on Tuesday, March 31st.
That annual event doesn't usually draw much attention at this blog, because CSE doesn't publish a Report on Plans and Priorities. (When CSE was part of the Department of National Defence, DND did include a roughly two-page section on CSE in the departmental RPP, but CSE chose not to maintain this reporting when it became a stand-alone agency in 2011. In true Orwellian fashion, the agency then described this entirely needless retreat from what was already a minimal level of transparency as "enhanced" reporting.)
Unlike CSE, however, the agency's watchdog the CSE Commissioner does publish a Report on Plans and Priorities, and this year's report
managed most unusually to make the news:
- Alex Boutilier, "Review body for Canada’s electronic spy agency warns it can’t keep up
," Toronto Star
, 1 April 2015.
- Justin Ling, "The Guy Who Oversees Canada’s Cyberspy Agency Is Cash-Strapped and Worried
, 2 April 2015.
- Ian MacLeod, "Watchdog worried about keeping up with Canada's electronic spying activities
," Ottawa Citizen
, 3 April 2015.
I'm not totally persuaded that this year's report was intended to be read as a warning that OCSEC is starved for cash and resources, but that's certainly the way it has been interpreted, and the Commissioner clearly did express concern about the effects of fiscal restraint on his ability to oversee CSE:
Cost sharing related to central agency initiatives and fiscal restraint measures are reducing the flexibility of the office's available funding. CSE, however, is growing and its activities are changing in response to its changing environment. The risk that the capacity of the office to conduct sufficient review to provide the necessary assurances to the Minister will be exceeded is a constant concern. An increase in funding, if required, would resolve the capacity issue and enable the Commissioner to continue to provide the necessary assurances to the Minister and to Canadians as to whether CSE is complying with the law and has due regard for the privacy of Canadians.
Over at Vice
, this became "Financial reports released on Tuesday show the commissioner is going to have to cut back his review processes due to lack of funds." I think that probably overstates the message that the Commissioner intended to send.
also commented that the Commissioner "doesn't have the power to compel information from CSE."
This is not correct.
As the National Defence Act
makes clear, the CSE Commissioner "has all the powers of a commissioner under Part II of the Inquiries Act
." Which means the Commissioner
(a) may enter into and remain within any public office or institution, and shall have access to every part thereof;
(b) may examine all papers, documents, vouchers, records and books of every kind belonging to the public office or institution;
(c) may summon before them any person and require the person to give evidence, orally or in writing, and on oath or, if the person is entitled to affirm in civil matters on solemn affirmation; and
(d) may administer the oath or affirmation under paragraph (c).
What the Commissioner says in the Report on Plans and Priorities is that "The office has no authority to enforce specific actions by CSE". In other words, the Commissioner can make recommendations for changes in CSE's policies and operations, but he does not have the power to compel the Minister or CSE to accept those recommendations.
Also relevant is this follow-up report:
- Laura Beaulne-Stuebing, "Canada’s security watchdog needs more power, says Liberal MP
," Yahoo News
, 3 April 2015.