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Canadians should be made aware of what the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC) is doing on their behalf, according to a former chief of the country’s signal intelligence agency which is currently facing allegations of spying on the mining and energy ministry of Brazil.

CSEC is the Canadian counterpart of the United States National Security Agency. It was established in 1946 to collect foreign intelligence that can be used by the government for strategic warning, policy information and decision making in the field of national security and national defence. Earlier this week, documents released by exiled former NSA security contractor Edward Snowden indicated that CSEC has been snooping on the mining and energy ministry of Brazil, a close trading partner of Canada.

The documents indicate that CSEC spied on computers and smart phones connected to the Brazilian ministry. The documents include frames of a CSEC presentation which could have been shared with the U.S. government and other allies in 2012.

Adams, who was chief of the CSEC from 2005 to 2012, said in an interview with the daily newspaper the Globe and Mail that the organizations is “very, very biased towards the less the public knows the better.” However, he said that its time for the agency to be more open to the public. He said the CSEC needs to report on its activities to a special all-party parliamentary committee.

As far back as 2007, there have been worries that the agency may be overstepping its bounds and collecting information on Canadians.

The CSEC has an annual budget of about $350 million and employs a staff of approximately 1,900. It is building a new $1 billion headquarters in Ottawa.

In the 1970s, the agency began using supercomputers to upgrade its code breaking capabilities. Its IT security program was developed to protect sensitive information transmitted by various agencies of the government. However, this stance has shifted to providing relevant intelligence to government agencies.

Adams said part of CSEC’s mandate is to monitor foreign communications. CSEC, he said, is gathering metadata from phone companies, Internet providers and collecting email records. However, it is not allowed by law to eavesdrop on domestic telephone and email traffic.

Much of the agency’s activities are secret. Even Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said she doesn’t have the mandate to look into CSEC activities. And this is something she is worried about.

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