The head of Canada’s electronic eavesdropping agency, which is alleged to have conducted economic espionage against Brazil, has defended the agency’s practices, saying its work is legal and does not target Canadians.
John Forster, head of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), made the remarks at a technology conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, AFP reported.
"Everything that CSE[C] does in terms of foreign intelligence follows Canadian law," he said.
Forster also pointed out that Canadian citizens are not the focus of its surveillance activities.
"I can tell you that we do not target Canadians at home or abroad in our foreign intelligence activities, nor do we target anyone in Canada. In fact, it's prohibited by law. Protecting the privacy of Canadians is our most important principle," he said.
The CSEC chief, however, declined to comment as to whether the agency had spied in Brazil.
CSEC has been the focus of much attention since Sunday evening, when Brazilian media reported the intelligence agency monitored communications from Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME).
The disclosure was reported based on leaked documents by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The documents showed that CSEC had made a detailed outline of the Brazilian ministry’s communications including phone calls, emails, and Internet traffic.
Canada’s opposition NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said on Wednesday that the allegations CSEC spied on MME for an industrial advantage are “totally unacceptable.”
“We’re talking about the type of behavior that we reproach other countries, often countries that have no rule of law, that have no need therefore to respect international norms,” Mulcair said, adding, “We’ve put ourselves in that lot with this type of behavior.”
“This is not using intelligence networks to protect our defense structure, our national interests or even our own companies. Actively spying on ministries and companies in another country to give an economic advantage to Canadian [companies] is not only illegal, it’s irresponsible and it gives Canada a black eye in the world,” he stated.
The spying allegations have soured ties with Brazil, an important trading partner for Canada. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Monday demanded Canada explain what had happened.
"This is inadmissible on the part of countries which want to be partners. We reject cyber-warfare," she said.
Brazil’s Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo also summoned the Canadian ambassador in the capital Brasilia to “transmit the indignation of the Brazilian government and demand explanations.”