Military suspends warrantless searches by counter-intelligence unit

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White supremacy poses an active threat to and within the Canadian Armed Forces, according to a new report from the National Security and Intelligence Agency. Eric Sorensen reports on the review's findings, and the military's history with this kind of extremism – Nov 14, 2022

The Canadian Armed Forces has temporarily stopped its counter-intelligence unit from conducting warrantless searches into military members’ computer use.

In a statement to Global News, the Department of National Defence (DND) said the practice of warrantless “IT searches” has been suspended after a highly critical report from Parliament’s national security review agency.

“The DND (and) CAF acknowledges the need for improved measures to reduce the risk of incidental or accidental collection of Charter-protected personal information,” a DND spokesperson said in a statement.

“Consequently, DND/CAF suspended the counter-intelligence IT searches for personal information until a new legal basis has been established. DND/CAF is reviewing relevant policies and operational procedures to make necessary improvements.”

DND did not respond to a direct question on the counter-intelligence unit snooping on employees’ and military members’ computer use without a warrant. Instead, it referred to “incidental” or “accidental” breaches of members’ privacy rights.

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The move comes after the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) released a report Thursday raising questions about the counter-intelligence unit potentially violating Charter-protected privacy rights.

“NSIRA is concerned that (the unit) has not adequately considered their legal authorities to determine whether they have reasonable lawful authority to conduct warrantless searches for (counter-intelligence) purposes,” the report reads.

The latest report from the independent review body followed one from 2022, which warned that the unit may be unable to counter the “active counter-intelligence threat” of white supremacy in the CAF.

The unit, created in 1997, is tasked with gathering intelligence on serious threats to DND and CAF personnel and assets, including extremism, sabotage and organized crime. But 10 separate internal reports since the unit’s inception has raised concerns about resources and policy constraints, calling into question their ability to carry out the job.

DND employees and CAF members are permitted to use work devices for a limited number of personal tasks, such as shopping, communicating with friends and family, and reading the news. NSIRA noted that those activities can “generate revealing and meaningful private information” protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms privacy provisions.

When asked if the warrantless searches violated members’ privacy rights, a DND spokesperson said they “consult legal advisors throughout the investigative process and has strengthened governance mechanisms.”


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