Summary of the Meeting of the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) - March 17, 2021
Held via Videoconference
- William Baker
- Khadija Cajee
- Mary Francoli
- Harpreet Jhinjar
- Thomas Juneau (co-chair)
- Justin Mohammed
- Bessma Momani
- Dominic Rochon (co-chair)
- Jeffrey Roy
- Members Absent:
- Myles Kirvan
- Michèle Audette
- “Transparency by Design”: Definition, Evaluation and Institutionalization of National Security Transparency – Part Five
Invited Guests and Speakers:
- Nabih Eldebs – Director General of Policy, Disclosure and Review, Communications Security Establishment (CSE)
National Security Community Members Present (as observers):
CSE, Department of National Defence, Public Safety Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Treasury Board Secretariat.
- Opening of the Meeting and Roll Call
- Transparency Secretariat Update
- Discussion on the Year Two Report
- Discussion Session with Guest: “Transparency by Design”: Definition, Evaluation and Institutionalization of National Security Transparency – Part V
- Information Updates and Closing Remarks
The ninth virtual NS-TAG meeting took place on March 17, 2021, on the theme “Transparency by Design: Definition, Evaluation and Institutionalization of National Security Transparency – Part V.”
During the first session of the meeting, the Transparency Secretariat provided an update on the National Security Transparency Commitment’s implementation across departments and agencies and the Secretariat’s related roles. The Secretariat also presented the preliminary results of recent public opinion research on national security transparency and information sharing, the final report of which will be made public. Members indicated that they would be happy to provide advice and views on future implementation projects supporting the Commitment.
Members then discussed the current draft of their second report and members’ respective involvement in writing the next draft.
During the discussion with the guest speaker, Director General Nabih Eldebs discussed CSE’s – including the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security – mission, key principles, and transformation in recent years. Discussion focused on the progress CSE has made in terms of transparency, including several examples of concrete outreach and engagement initiatives they have put in place.
Key Takeaways of the Discussion with Guests:
- According to the guest speaker, CSE is changing, and transparency has been improving, particularly in the last five years. CSE’s workforce believes in its mission, and all generally feel that it is in the organisation’s best interest to gain trust and confidence, as well as increase the public’s knowledge of what CSE does. To do this, CSE has developed a three-faceted approach: release key documents, engage with the public, and provide the public with tools to protect devices and better explain CSE’s mandate to the general public.
- CSE also tries to have continuous engagement with the public in terms of how it is doing its business. Cybersecurity is a “team sport” which needs public participation to be at its strongest.
- The guest speaker said that it is crucial to release key documents related to CSE’s work and what it does, and that it is equally important to help Canadians access and understand these documents. CSE has made progress in terms of transparency by publishing documents such as the National Cyber Threat Assessment, a first CSE Annual Report (2019-2020), and two election-related cyber reports that address the various threats to Canada’s democratic processes.
- According to the speaker, diversity is key at CSE. CSE believes that engagement, accountability, and transparency can help achieve a more diverse workforce, as can investing in future generations. CSE has a group of volunteers within the organization engaging with various key organizations related to science and technology, engineering, and math. These are the areas facing recruitment challenges, so CSE is investing heavily in outreach to diverse groups. Some of these organizations include DMZCanHACK, Raspberry Pi worshops, HackerGal (organization that helps introduce girls in middle school to coding and cyber), CyberTitan, Black Boys Code (helps black youth learn how to code and take substantive steps towards being involved in technology and innovation), and Digital Mi'kmaq (teaches Indigenous youth how to code and how to be involved in cyber).
- While CSE tracks Employment Equity Act data, it is also investing in tracking the number of applications and hires in order to better identify systemic barriers throughout the hiring process. CSE is working to also engage directly with communities on how to get better representation within its workforce.
- CSE believes that transparency is not just about declassifying documents and sharing them with the public. Providing the public with tools so that the public can benefit from declassified information has proven to be more practical. Those tools and taking concrete actions are more important than providing raw information in bulk. Cyber-security tools released publicly include: Assemblyline, and CIRA Canadian Shield.
- Members welcomed CSE’s efforts to engage various marginalized communities and youth.
- On measuring the impact of transparency initiatives, the guest speaker commented that they are trying to find ways to internally capture the impact of engagement and outreach efforts. They estimate that in the last two years, the number of media requests may have increased by three to four times due to CSE’s increased public engagement and the increase in public knowledge about CSE.
- On Canadians’ understanding of the nature and origin of cyber threats, the guest speaker commented that public knowledge is growing. Through educational campaigns at different educational levels, CSE is trying to raise public understanding of threats and develop resilient cyber behavior. The guest speaker also commented that through outreach programs such as informing high school students of what CSE does, in the long term, it helps Canadians better understand the security and intelligence community and invests in CSE’s workforce of tomorrow.
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