Should Canadians be concerned about the U.S. spying on Canadian soil?

·Politics Reporter

It's a story that has made headlines across Canada and around the world.

On Wednesday, CBC News reported on documents retrieved by NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden which suggest Canada allowed the U.S. to conduct widespread surveillance during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits in Ontario.

The documents don't specify spy targets but do suggest that the NSA "closely coordinated" with Canada's electronic eavesdropping agency known as the Communications Security Establishment Canada or CSEC.

[ Related: Top spy won't answer questions about G20 surveillance ]

CSEC's Chief John Forster didn't give a direct answer, Thursday, when reporters asked him if the story was true.

"I can't comment in detail on the intelligence operations or capabilities of ourselves or our allies. What I can tell you is that CSEC, under its legislation, cannot target Canadians anywhere in the world or anyone in Canada, including visitors to Canada," Forster said, according to CBC News.

"We would only do so if we were assisting a law enforcement agency in Canada under a warrant, etc. To do otherwise would be against the law. Further, we cannot ask our allies to do any kind of operations that we ourselves are not permitted to do under law."

[ Related: Canadians believe Edward Snowden is a hero, not a villain ]

This is the second Snowden leak about Canada in as many months: In October, it was reported that CSEC conducted a cyber-espionage campaign against Brazil’s mines and energy ministry.

The stories of international espionage have definitely gotten the attention of the opposition parties and media but what about the general public.

Why should Canadians be concerned? Isn't it a spy agency's job to spy?

Geoffrey O'Brian, a former Chief of Counter-Intelligence for CSIS, suggests that perhaps Canadians are over-reacting.

"I think that we kind of partially over-react, partially jump — we sort of grab this and use words like shocking. Spying has been with us for a long time. I don't think we should be surprised that people wish to advance their interests by gaining some kind of information advantage," he told CBC News, adding that he believes Canada does need an open debate on issues surrounding our spy agencies.

"People make...bold statements like 'there's no surveillance, there's no review of the intel services.' Well that's just nonsense. There's lots of review. The question is, I suppose, is it the right review."

[ More Politics: Will crack confession prevent Rob Ford from attending the Winter Classic in Michigan? ]

Open Media — the pro-privacy group who led the campaign against the Harper government's online spying law (Bill C-30) — says there are many reasons to be concerned.

One of which is our international reputation.

"[The spying on Brazil]...torpedoed our relationship with Brazil which is a hugely important trading partner and a friendly country and ally," the organization's communications manager David Christopher told Yahoo! Canada News.

"And I expect a lot of the G-20 partners that we have, that are not the U.S., will be very angry that Canada actually hosted this massive American spying operation on Canadian soil that was aimed at pushing U.S. interests during this very contentious G-20 negotiation.

Christopher also contends that these recent stories about CSEC reveal a Harper government pattern and proves that they're "out of touch" with Canadians when it comes to issue of personal privacy.

He cited Bill C-30 — the online spy legislation that Vic Toews introduced and the current cyber-bullying which he says includes two and a half pages of cyber-bullying" and "65 pages" of online spying legislation.

Open Media, along with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, has also launched a law suit against CSEC alleging that its "unchecked" powers to monitor Canadians' communications are too broad and secretive.

"I think we've seen a long record of the government kind of riding roughshod over Canadians' privacy rights," Christopher said.

"This government is refusing to answer questions that are being raised about CSEC. They sort of just issue these very bland statements..when I think what Canadians really want to see is an informed democratic debate about CSEC and what the appropriate role for CSEC is."

Finally, there's the question of Canadian sovereignty with regard to allowing another country to spy on Canadian territory.

What do you think?

Should Canadians be concerned about CSEC's activities?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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