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Canadians not keen on trading privacy for intelligence sharing: polling data – National


Canadians aren’t keen on giving federal agencies more powers to share information in the name of national security if it comes at the expense of privacy rights, documents obtained by Global News suggest.

The Privy Council Office (PCO), the central department of government, recently polled Canadians about the balance between privacy rights and the ability of government agencies to share intelligence with partners to address national security threats.

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The PCO asked respondents if they would accept “greater information sharing powers” to address national security threats, “even if it affects (their) privacy rights.”

The polling data, obtained by Global News under access to information laws, found one out of two respondents would not, roughly one in ten Canadians were ambivalent, and just one in three thought it was a good idea.

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Both CSIS and their sister agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), have repeatedly warned about the threat of foreign interference and influence operations during the pandemic, targeting health research, critical industries, as well as people increasingly working from home on less-secure networks.

While suspicion regarding more information sharing is clear, what new power national security agencies may be seeking is murkier.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) told Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in October 2021 that their work was hampered by not being able to share intelligence with “non-federal government stakeholders.”

“CSIS cannot provide classified information to targets of threat activities, such as private sector entities, academia, civil society groups, and provincial and municipal authorities,” CSIS Director David Vigneault wrote in a letter to Mendicino reviewed by Global News.

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As a result, the service suggested, it was more difficult for those groups to mitigate those threats.

The service reiterated those lines in response to questions from Global News. It also noted taking an “increasingly public role” during the COVID-19 pandemic “to raise awareness of espionage and foreign interference activities directed at the private sector.”

CSIS also said that they have been able to provide “comprehensive and sanitized threat overviews” to organizations outside of government.

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CSE, in particular, has amped up public warnings to industries and individuals about potential cyber security compromises since lockdowns began in March 2020.

“CSE’s current legislative and policy framework includes information sharing provisions that allow us to protect Canada and Canadians from complex and evolving threats,” wrote CSE spokesperson Evan Koronewski in a statement to Global.

PCO, the department that commissioned the polling, did not respond to questions from Global News as of press time.

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Global News has built a database of these weekly internal PCO polls using the federal Access to Information Act.

The data collected by the PCO polling program is routinely circulated among the most senior decision-makers inside the Prime Minister’s Office as well as every cabinet minister and deputy minister’s office.

The weekly polling program, which was instituted by the Trudeau government in 2015, produces data that cabinet and others use to make key decisions such as what to include in a budget or how best to respond to events.

The raw polling data obtained by Global News does not provide detailed information about the pollster’s methodology or margin of error but it is clear from the documents provided that the poll samples the opinion of 1,000 people each week and that the pollster collects demographic data — language, region, gender, age and so on — in order to to ensure the data is representative of the actual demographic makeup of the country. The data is collected using live-agent telephone calls to land-lines and cellphones.

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— With files from David Akin.


© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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