Information Sharing for National Security

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Why national security agencies need to share information

Threats to Canada's national security emerge rapidly and evolve unpredictably. These threats come from both state and non-state actors, domestic and foreign, and represent a significant danger to the security, stability and prosperity of Canada.

Responding to national security threats requires a whole of government approach, as several federal government institutions can hold different pieces of information. A collaborative legal framework allows these institutions to work effectively together to share their information in order to understand and respond to a complete threat picture and keep Canadians safe.

Depending on their role and responsibilities, federal government institutions may have different legislative authorities for sharing information for national security purposes. These authorities govern how each institution handles personal information in their possession, including when, why and how they may share information to address a national security threat.

Security of Canada Information Disclosure Act (SCIDA)

To keep Canadians safe, federal government institutions must be able to disclose information in the interest of national security to other federal government institutions that have a national security mandate and/or responsibilities.

The Security of Canada Information Disclosure Act (SCIDA) is a key piece of legislation that provides federal government institutions the authority to disclose information to each other to protect against activities that undermine the security of Canada. Enacted in 2019 as part of Bill C-59, the National Security Act, it is intended to improve the timely and effective sharing of information between government institutions for national security purposes.

The SCIDA provides a clear, express authority for all federal government institutions to disclose information to a designated group of 17 departments and agencies with recognized national security mandates and/or responsibilities. It empowers these institutions to receive and share information quickly, effectively and responsibly with each other in order to identify, prevent and respond to national security threats when there are no other authorities enabling them to do so.

The SCIDA does not replace or expand the existing laws related to the collection, use, or retention of information. Its authorities are strictly limited to when and how national security information may be disclosed and received by Government of Canada institutions. Its authority also does not extend to information sharing with international, provincial, municipal or private sector partners.

Protection of Personal Information

A fundamental obligation of the Government of Canada is to protect our safety and security at home and abroad. Equally fundamental is the obligation to respect the rights and freedoms we expect as Canadians living in a free and democratic society.

The sharing of information by federal government institutions, even for national security purposes, continues to be governed by Canada's existing legal framework, which includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Privacy Act. When sharing information for national security purposes, Government of Canada institutions must uphold and respect this existing framework which protects personal information, while working to achieve their national security objectives.

The principles of proportionality and necessity guide responsible information sharing and help ensure that Canadians' rights and freedoms are upheld. Together, these principles support a national security information sharing framework that can effectively disrupt and mitigate threats in a way that does not affect any person's rights and freedoms more than is reasonably necessary to keep Canada safe.

Accountability and Oversight

National security information sharing, just like other government actions, requires checks and balances to ensure that authorities are used responsibly. Independent oversight bodies such as the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) help keep Government of Canada institutions accountable in sharing information for national security purposes.

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) was established in 2019 to help ensure that national security and intelligence activities are lawful, reasonable and necessary. NSIRA has a mandate to independently review all federal national security and intelligence activities, including national security information sharing under the SCIDA. While NSIRA provides many of its findings and recommendations to relevant Ministers through classified reports, it publishes an unclassified annual report to the Prime Minister and a report on the disclosures of information performed under the SCIDA.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), established in 2017, is another independent review body with a broad mandate. The NSICOP reviews national security and intelligence frameworks, activities carried out by specific departments, and other matters relating to national security or intelligence that is referred to them.

Together, these oversight bodies, along with the legislative protections in place, help to ensure that the rights and freedoms of Canadians are protected.

Strategic Coordination Centre on Information Sharing

Public Safety Canada manages the Strategic Coordination Centre on Information Sharing (SCCI) to help support timely, effective and responsible sharing of national security information between federal government institutions.

The SCCI provides training, support and resources to Government of Canada partners to effectively share national security information while promoting best practices within the national security community. It does not itself however collect or share any personal information related to national security.

To facilitate national security information sharing, the SCCI works closely with partners across the national security community to ensure cooperation and integration of information sharing efforts. By fostering a culture of partnership, the SCCI better enables partners to work together to protect Canada's national security and overcome information sharing obstacles.

Transparency is also a key pillar of the SCCI's work. The SCCI has a mandate and deep commitment to educate and engage the public on national security information sharing laws, policies and practices. The SCCI achieves this through various public outreach and engagement activities, with a goal to encourage 'national security literacy' among Canadians


National Security Public Opinion Research Snapshot

Public Safety Canada recently surveyed 2,000 randomly selected Canadians to better understand public awareness, knowledge and attitudes surrounding transparency and information sharing for national security purposes within the Government of Canada.

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