Canadian security agencies will be able to launch cyber-counterattacks to respond to foreign threats under a new law.
The government’s omnibus Bill C-59 passed the Senate on Tuesday and contains nine parts on matters relating to national security.
Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said the power for cyberattacks will be given to the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) with strict accountability requirements. The legislation allows CSE to engage in “active cyber-activity,” meaning it can respond to attacks before they occur, Mr. Goodale said.
“This would empower the agency to get ahead of the threat, and this is the first time that authority has existed in Canada,” he said.
The decision to launch cybersecurity attacks will be reviewed by the Intelligence Commissioner, a new position created by the bill, Mr. Goodale said. He said Canadian agencies – such as ones responsible for electrical power systems, banking infrastructure and air-traffic control – are constantly under attack by entities including foreign governments and militaries, rogue states, organized crime groups and terrorist organizations.
“There are quite literally millions of attempts to hack a Canadian system every day,” Mr. Goodale said.
Examples of the types of cyberoperations that could be used include preventing a terrorist’s mobile phone from detonating a car bomb or impeding a terrorist’s ability to transfer information by obstructing communications infrastructure, Scott Bardsley, manager of media and communications in Mr. Goodale’s office, said in an e-mailed statement.
The omnibus bill will also amend the Secure Air Travel Act to give Ottawa the power to electronically screen airline-passenger information by transferring that function from airlines to the government. A redress system will allow Canadians whose names are similar to those on the no-fly list to apply for a unique identification number that could be used at the time of purchase of airline tickets to clear their identity.
The Liberals last year committed $81.4-million over five years to create the redress system; Mr. Goodale said it will be implemented in 2020. He said he’s unsure why the current Canadian no-fly list does not account for similar names. Unlike the U.S. system, Canada’s list does not include dates of birth, gender or other details to ensure that two people with the same name aren’t mistaken.
Until a redress system is in place, it is likely that fliers with names similar to those on the no-fly list will continue to experience delays.
“We will continue to try to be helpful, but the problem will not be gone until we get the new system in place,” Mr. Goodale said.
He said he hopes the bill will receive royal assent on Friday.
“It’s a major piece of national-security law, but it is based upon very, very extensive consultation and in order to ensure we’ve got it right, all of this will be reviewed again, three years from now,” he said.