The review body for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has raised “serious concerns” about how the agency uses private information it obtains from security screenings, in their annual report that was released last week.
The security screenings are a process of obtaining extensive background information on both those hoping to immigrate to Canada and those looking for jobs, which include access to sensetive information. They can require these individuals to consent to invasive interviews covering a wide range of personal information about their lives.
“Our review identified a serious concern that changes CSIS has undertaken with respect to the internal use of information collected for security screening purposes could be in contravention of the Privacy Act,” wrote the Security Intelligence Review Committee in their annual report.
The report raised concerns that information collected by the branch of CSIS responsible for security screenings may be shared internally within the spy agency and used for purposes other than those it was intended for, noting that there was “room for abuse of such information.”
CSIS is required by law to assist in preventing individuals who may pose a threat to Canada from obtaining either status or entry into the country.
But migrants rights activist Syed Hussan believes that the invasive interviews have another purpose, pointing out that “the questions are not always relevant to immigration.” He believes the security screenings are also used as means of gathering intelligence from people who fear being deported if they do not cooperate.
“They get all this information they wouldn’t be able to otherwise access, personal information, family history , political activity, sexual history … people get asked everything,” said Hussan, in a telephone interview.
The lengthy interviews, which can stretch over multiple days, require written legal consent of those being screened. The Security Intelligence Review Committee found that due this information obtained through these screening should in theory be subject to a greater degree of protection under the Privacy Act, than information CSIS obtains on individuals without their knowledge or consent.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee did not disclose how the information obtained from security screenings was shared within CSIS, and to what ends that information was put to use.
“It is unclear where this information ends up,” said Hussan, who worries that the information could be passed along to foreign governments or used for “nefarious” purposes at home. He believes massive amounts of information may be stored by the agency.
The expansive powers granted to CSIS may soon increase. Earlier this week the Conservative government introduced a bill that would grant the agency new powers to spy abroad and greater protection for CSIS informants that will keep them out of the courts.
In response to the review of security screening practices, CSIS informed the Security Intelligence Review Committee that they were conducting a Privacy Risk Assessment that would give the Information and Privacy Commissioner an opportunity to review the matter.
However the Security Intelligence Review Committee wrote that it remained “unclear … if its specific concerns would be addressed in a full and timely manner.”