OTTAWA - In his nearly four years as Barack Obama's envoy to Canada, David Jacobson has always stressed his desire to bring Americans and Canadians closer, to make them more familiar with each other.
But in the wake of the intense debate over the U.S. National Security Agency collecting large swaths of data on its citizens from major Internet companies, Jacobson makes one large distinction.
"The United States does not spy on Canadian citizens," Jacobson told The Canadian Press in one of the series of interviews he gave Monday before he steps down from his post next month.
Leaked NSA documents obtained by Britain's Guardian newspaper disclosed how the top-secret, data-mining program called Prism has given the U.S. government access to a huge cache of digital information from companies such as Google, Microsoft and Apple.
That has sparked a probe by Canada's privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, about the implications of that U.S. program for Canadians. Stoddart said the scope of the information reportedly being collected raises "significant concerns."
"The United States government respects privacy, they respect individual liberties," Jacobson said.
"Quite frankly, these are concepts that in large measure were invented in my country. We care very much about them. I think the American people and the Canadian people can take some comfort in that."
Stoddart, meanwhile, has said she wants to ask the Canadian counterpart to the NSA, the watchdog that oversees the Communications Security Establishment, to determine how the personal information of Canadians may have been affected.
The CSE is a key component of the intelligence-sharing network known as the Five Eyes: Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
Stoddart has in the past raised privacy concerns over the amount of information about Canadians would be shared with the U.S. as part of the perimeter security pact the two countries rolled out in December 2011.
The Beyond the Border pact, which will be phased in over several years, aims to smooth the passage of goods and people across the 49th parallel while guarding against terrorist threats to North America.
Information sharing between the two countries is a key feature of the pact, with a focus on monitoring the movement of citizens and visitors.
"The kind of information that we share in Beyond the Border is, like, what's in a truck. Or the NEXUS program, where you voluntarily provide information to the Canadian government and the American government," said Jacobson.
"We're not talking about intelligence and that kind of information."
Jacobson characterized the perimeter security pact as a never-ending process that will require continual refinement.
The pact is built upon a series of pilot projects that are to be phased in over years.
It won't be the only bilateral issue that continues to evolve after Jacobson's tenure expires.
A decision by the Obama administration on the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline is not expected until later this year.
The pipeline would carry hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of Alberta oilsands bitumen across half a dozen U.S. states to southern Texas.
The controversial project, which is widely opposed by U.S. environmental groups, has already been delayed once.
Jacobson said there have been more than a million public comments on a preliminary environmental impact statement.
A final impact statement is being prepared in light of those comments. They will then be subject to a 90-day review period involving at least nine U.S. agencies, he said.
Eventually, it will wind its way to the White House for a final decision.
"Soon is a relative concept. It's been around for a long time. By that time frame, it's soon but it is not imminent," Jacobson said, when asked to characterize how much longer the decision would take.
Jacobson, 61, will be joining BMO Financial Group, based in his hometown of Chicago, where BMO's main U.S. operations are headquartered.
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