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Email from University of Waterloo advising what to do if contacted by CSIS causes some confusion on campus

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An email sent by the University of Waterloo to its grad students, researchers and faculty is raising some questions.

In it, the university lays out what students and faculty should do if they’re approached by an agent from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

The university says in order to safeguard research, it’s working to ensure everyone is prepared for interactions that may jeopardize that – including interactions with CSIS agents, both on and off campus.

“You do not have a legal obligation to talk to a CSIS agent. Furthermore, you do not need to meet them at the time and place with which they contact you. For example, if they appear unannounced at your place of residence, you can ask them to reschedule the meeting in the morning or at your workplace if you prefer,” the memo said.

The university says it’s important for students, faculty and researchers to ask the agent why they want to speak with them, and advises it may be able to provide someone to accompany the person being questioned.

The email concludes with a reminder that any search of UW property, including any equipment purchased with research grant funding, is not allowed unless the university authorizes it.

Many students CTV Kitchener spoke with on campus Thursday were confused by why the email was sent in the first place, while other praised the university for taking precautions.

“I think the university is doing a good job at making sure people know how to protect themselves,” one person said.

CYBERSECURITY COMPANY WEIGHS IN

In an email to CTV News, Waterloo cybersecurity expert Ryan Westman says the email makes sense, given cyber threats are at an all-time high, paired with the ongoing threat of intellectual property being stolen.

“It's not surprising that CSIS would be interested in speaking with researchers from the University of Waterloo, as they have in the past, since there have been over 150 papers published by the university with researchers connected to China's military,” said Westman, who is a threat intelligence senior manager at eSentire.

UNIVERSITY RESPONSE

In an email to CTV News, the university says the memo is one piece of a larger strategy to safeguard research it Is developing to support faculty.

“As a standard part of their work, security agencies will sometimes reach out to faculty engaged in sensitive areas of research – this memo was created to help researchers understand their rights in such instances and create a transparent process of engagement,” the university said in part.

CTV News reached out to CSIS about whether they have contacted people involved with the University of Waterloo recently, but did not receive a response by airtime.

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