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Federal Court ruling allows CSIS to deploy surveillance technology without warrant

A redacted version of the previously-secret decision was published Tuesday, as CSIS warned Canadians about Chinese intelligence strategies
Canada’s spy agency issued an extraordinary warning Tuesday that the Chinese government is targeting Canadians.

Canada’s spy agency issued an extraordinary warning Tuesday that the Chinese government is targeting Canadians, on the same day that the Federal Court published a previously secret ruling that allows deployment of a surveillance technology without warrant.

But the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said the two are unrelated.

In a series of tweets, CSIS explained how China’s intelligence services are targeting Canadians inside and outside China.

“Be careful who you connect with on LinkedIn, and all other online platforms,” said one of the tweets.

The thread described the scheme in four steps. First, agents for the Chinese government identify recruitment targets by using proxies or “targeters.”

“They identify people who are actively looking for jobs in strategic sectors or who have high-value credentials,” the thread said.

They approach their target by posing as a human resources recruiter or security consultant via LinkedIn and then move the communication to a secondary platform, such as WeChat, WhatsApp or email, at the earliest opportunity. The targets are asked to write reports for client consultants, in exchange for payment. They may also be invited to meetings with people they are led to believe to be clients.

“Both the consultant and the client are in fact intelligence officers,” CSIS said.

In the fourth and final step, CSIS said the new recruits start receiving payment in exchange for providing confidential, privileged information that is of interest to the Chinese government.

In its May 4-released annual public report, CSIS said China relies on “non-traditional collectors” to help transfer knowledge and technology from Canada to China. The non-traditional collectors are individuals without formal intelligence training, but include scientists and businesspeople who have relevant subject-matter expertise.

The tweets coincided with the publication of an October 2022 ruling from Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton that allows CSIS to employ a certain type of technology inside and outside Canada without a warrant.

The ruling had previously been marked “top secret,” and specifics about the technology and targets remain redacted for national security reasons.

CSIS had applied in late 2021 for warrant powers to deploy a new tool against existing targets of an investigation, Crampton explained. His ruling mentions the technology was used in a 2018 pilot project without a warrant against both Canadian and non-Canadian subjects of an investigation in Canada and abroad.

A hint about the type of technology appears to be contained in Crampton’s reference to the National Security and Intelligence Review Committee and its 2019 report to the federal minister of public safety and emergency preparedness: “Review of CSIS’s Use of [censored] - a Geolocation Data Collection Tool.”

Crampton ruled that the four CSIS-proposed uses of the technology within Canada would not require a warrant and that use of the technology outside Canada would not contravene any principle of international law and would not require a warrant.

Information collected outside Canada, intended for use in a criminal proceeding, would be subject to admissibility tests under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Crampton wrote.

Meanwhile, a jury in a U.S. federal court on Tuesday convicted three men for acting as illegal agents of the Chinese government and stalking across state lines.

One of them, Michael McMahon, 55, is a retired New York Police Department sergeant who harassed and intimidated a man in an effort to coerce him to return to China as part of the Chinese government’s anti-corruption, fugitive-repatriation campaign “Operation Fox Hunt.” McMahon could face up to 20 years in prison.

Unlike Canada, the U.S. has a law requiring agents of foreign governments to register with the Department of Justice.