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‘Big Brother vibes’: Spy agency drops job offers after mixed reviews from focus groups

OTTAWA — Canada’s cyber spy agency has changed course on proposed recruiting efforts after focus groups found job postings had too much of a “Big Brother” vibe.

OTTAWA — Canada’s cyber spy agency has changed course on proposed recruiting efforts after focus groups found job postings had too much of a “Big Brother vibe.”

The Communications Security Establishment spent just over $56,000 earlier this year on Earnscliffe Strategy Group research that explored reactions to various brand concepts, including graphic designs featuring large camera lenses.

Some focus group participants told researchers that the agency’s logo in the middle of a lens evoked “surveillance, a Big Brother vibe, and that CSE is still watching.”

A mid-career professional joked: “It’s like in the movies, the eye watching everyone, like we’re being followed.”

Monitoring is certainly part of the agency’s activities.

But the questionable comments have led to a “creative new approach” that addresses the most negative perceptions and tries to better explain the agency’s role in “protecting Canada and keeping Canadians safe”, a spokesperson said. in a press release.

Earnscliffe also kindly informed the agency that the attendees, which included a group of college students, were “lukewarm” about the ghosts’ proposed slogan and “didn’t feel like it was that inspiring.”

‘A mission that matters’ fell a bit flat, a spokesperson said, because CSE’s target audience had a limited understanding of its mission – to secure and protect Canada’s information technology and to analyze signals intelligence. foreign.

After a return to the drawing board, the agency decided to play the mystery.

This fall, the spokesperson said, CSE will launch a recruitment drive that will brand itself as “the most important organization you’ve never heard of.”

As part of its efforts to identify foreign activities that could threaten Canada’s “national prosperity and security”, CSE seeks to hire people from diverse backgrounds, the statement said.

That’s why advertisements in Chinese were specifically tested with focus groups: “We determined that it would be wise to advertise job openings to Canadians whose first language is not necessarily English, including Chinese Canadians.”

In the recent past, the Canadian government has drawn public attention to “irresponsible state-sponsored cyber activities” by Chinese state actors, including with the intent of stealing intellectual property and personal information.

The ad concepts that the CSE ultimately rejected were filled with oranges and teals and one included a “wired face” that attendees thought was cool and “futuristic.”

“Honestly, I like that. Because instead of real humans in the photo, there’s like a technological-looking figure. And I feel like that comes into play with, for example, what would be the actual job description,” one participant said.

Another concept that included a photo of an actual human was rejected because it seemed out of place with the job description: “The image of a woman with a full smile, using pen and paper, was the opposite of what they expected from the agency that oversees cybersecurity.”

In 2016, the playful slogan proposed by CSE at a government job fair was: “Can you keep a secret?”

That year, recruiters headed to Montreal Comiccon, where they hoped to bump into tech-savvy students.

Bureaucrats weren’t allowed to dress up in suits, CSE told media at the time, so the agency provided them with designer sunglasses to wear inside.

The agency now says it has grown significantly in the years since, though today it does not mention whether stylish accessories may have played a part.

Unlike many workplaces during the pandemic, CSE has seen its workforce increase by 20% since 2019, bringing its workforce to approximately 3,200 full-time employees.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 26, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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