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The Globe and Mail

Spy watchdog seeks broader investigative powers

Canadian spies are obtaining a growing number of search warrants to intercept communications in Canada, according to a new report by the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service received 55 search warrants from the Federal Court in 2010-11, up from 36 the previous year and 26 two years ago.

The increased interception of communications comes as CSIS spends more of its resources on the investigation of cyber threats in Canada, looking to identify the origins and motives of such attacks. However, SIRC cautioned CSIS that it does not have the legal authority to advise federal agencies on ways to protect themselves from attacks, stating that responsibility lies with Communications Security Establishment Canada.

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In its annual report released on Wednesday, the spy watchdog also sought new powers to examine the links among CSIS and other federal departments on national security operations. As it stands, SIRC cannot look at the operations of agencies such as Foreign Affairs, Transport Canada or Citizenship and Immigration, even when they interact with CSIS officials.

SIRC stated that the government should tweak the CSIS Act to allow its investigators to broaden the focus of their work.

"It would enable SIRC to examine the actions of other federal entities when they connect with, or relate to, CSIS," the report said. "Those modest changes would be cost-effective and could help to alleviate public concerns regarding Canada's existing system of national security accountability."

With a budget of $2-million and 20 employees, SIRC investigates complaints against CSIS agents and examines the operations of the powerful spy service. The watchdog closed 32 investigations last year and received 17 new complaints, down from 32 the previous year.

It also looked at broader issues, such as increased monitoring of the Internet by CSIS officials and the interrogation of detainees in Afghanistan.

SIRC pointed to the Afghan detainee issue as an example of a situation in which it would have benefited from greater powers, where it could have expanded its investigation to include departments such as National Defence.

SIRC said it found no evidence that CSIS officials in Afghanistan had first-hand knowledge of the torture of detainees by local authorities. Still, it added that CSIS was slow to appose the appropriate "caveats" to information "that could have been derived from torture" from its foreign partners.

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"If CSIS continues to expand its operations abroad, it should take all reasonable measures to ensure that the management of operations meets, as far as is practicable, the standards of administration and accountability that are maintained domestically," the report said.

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