Harper must address online surveillance in Canada, says advocacy group

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to media on the Historic Kinsol Trestle a wooden railway north of Shawnigan Lake during his Western tour Shawnigan Lake, B.C., Tuesday, January 7, 2014. The Canadian Press

TORONTO – A Canadian advocacy organization is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to break his ongoing silence on the topic of online surveillance.

“Thanks to the release of information by Edward Snowden, we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the American government has been spying on its own citizens and those of many other countries, including those whom it considered allies,” said William Kowalski, chairman of the National Affairs Committee of freedom of expression advocacy organization PEN Canada.

“This includes Canadian citizens. And we also know that the information obtained by the NSA has been shared with the Canadian authorities, and vice-versa.”

READ MORE: Canada played central role in NSA attempt to crack secure web data

A report published in September said the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSECplayed a central role in NSA attempts to crack secure web data. In December, leaked documents alleged CSEC allowed the U.S. to spy on world leaders at the G20 in Toronto.

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READ MORE: Are federal spy agencies monitoring Canadians’ communications?

On Friday, President Barack Obama called for ending the government’s control of phone data from hundreds of millions of Americans and ordered intelligence agencies to get a secretive court’s permission before accessing such records.

READ MORE: Obama orders changes to NSA programs

“None of this is speculation,” said Philip Slayton, president of PEN Canada in a press release. “The facts have been out there for months. Given the disturbing nature of what has been revealed, we find silence by the Prime Minister on this issue to be inadequate. The Canadian people should know to what extent they have been spied upon and why. The U.N. has said it loud and clear – privacy is a human right.”

READ MORE: NSA rulings could help Canadian group argue case against CSEC

In April 2013, UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue released a report that said the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression are interlinked and mutually dependent.

READ MORE: Questions, but no answers about allegations Canada allowed U.S. to spy at G20

“An infringement upon one can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other,” said La Rue.

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In an e-mail statement to Global News, the PMO’s deputy director of communications said the government  is focused on ensuring the safety and security of Canadians.

“In his speech, President Obama stressed the importance of foreign intelligence in protecting national security, and the need to balance security and privacy.

Under the National Defence Act, CSE conducts foreign signals intelligence activities that support the government’s decision-making in the fields of national security, defence and international affairs.

CSE operates under its own legislative framework, and respects and complies with Canadian laws. While CSE works with our allies in foreign intelligence, each country has its own capabilities and programs, and each country’s agency operates within its own laws and policies. Also, one country cannot ask a partner agency to do something that it cannot legally do itself.

CSE’s activities are reviewed by the independent CSE Commissioner, who has specifically noted our culture of lawful compliance and genuine concern for protecting the privacy of Canadians.”

PEN Canada is a “nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right at home and abroad.”

 – with files from Nick Logan and Jamie Sturgeon, Global News

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