Overly Redactive Intelligence Services

The censors at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have gone overboard. According to this report concerning the interrogation five years ago in a Sudanese jail of Abousfian Abdelrazik – accused of having links to al-Qaeda – "every word on that attached eight-page memo has been blacked out, including page numbers."

Redaction is the process of blacking out or otherwise obscuring confidential or sensitive text in documents prior to releasing them to a third party for e-discovery purposes. In this case, redaction seems to have been used to make a statement.

Redaction serves a useful role in preventing the communication of privileged content to opposing parties. But in this case, CSIS has essentially conveyed the fact that it is above the law as expressed in the Freedom of Access to Information Act: It doesn’t need to provide any information, even page numbers on a memo. Yet by its extreme redactive behavior, CSIS is drawing more attention to the case, and seems to be defying someone to try and get information out of it.

Time will tell what really happened between CSIS and Abousfian Abdelrazik. Until such a time, the silence is deafening.

... David Sengupta

One Comment

  1. Grant Lindsay
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 5:26 AM | Permalink

    “CSIS has essentially conveyed the fact that it is above the law as expressed in the Freedom of Information Act”

    How is a Canadian agency under a U.S. law, anyway?

    Do U.S. government agencies, like the CIA for example, comply with Canadian, European, or Chinese laws? No. Why would they?

    The real question should be, then, has the CSIS broken any Canadian laws, would you not agree?

  2. Posted May 21, 2009 at 9:54 AM | Permalink

    Grant, plenty of jurisdictions have statutes called something like, “Freedom of Information Act.” Canada and its provinces/territories included.

    Wikipedia has more.

  3. Grant Lindsay
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 4:09 PM | Permalink

    Hi Richi,

    There are similar laws in other countries, as you noted. In Canada, the legislation is called the “Access to Information Act” and several provinces have similar legislation (e.g., “Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act”.) In the United States, the statute is called, “Freedom of Information Act.”

    I guess I was confused by David’s terminology.

    Semantics aside, I wholeheartedly agree that all agencies need to adhere to their applicable laws and, when they don’t, they need to be held accountable.

  4. Posted May 21, 2009 at 4:18 PM | Permalink

    Grant, you took the words right out of my mouth. I’ve updated the post to clarify. Thanks.

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