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Canadians sue their own government over domestic spying

"We can't even tell when we've been victimized by it," the head of one Internet freedom advocacy group said.


Kevin Collier


Posted on Oct 22, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 3:40 am CDT

American privacy advocates aren’t the only ones taking their own government to court over domestic spying programs. On Tuesday, Canadian activists announced they were suing Canada’s equivalent of the National Security Agency.

A coalition of Internet and privacy groups represented by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Union filed suit Tuesday against the Communications Security Establishment Canada. 

After former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA regularly monitors Americans’ communications metadata, including phone records, Canada started its own inquiry. Through an access-to-information request—similar to an American Freedom of Information request—the Globe and Mail discovered that the country has its own metadata collection program, and its possibly more comprehensive than the NSA’s. Reports indicate Canada has collected not just phone metadata, but also citizens’ Internet activity.

A government watchdog group concluded in August that the CSEC may have illegally targeted Canadian citizens. But Robert Decary, the former judge who conducted the investigation, said his findings were ultimately inconclusive, as “a number of CSEC records relating to these activities were unclear or incomplete.”

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s equivalent to the bill of rights, grants Canadians “the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.” CSEC, the BCCLA argues, violates that right if it monitors its citizens’ phone calls or emails.

As evidenced by other Snowden leaks, the CSEC has a regular working relationship with the NSA. They, along with equivalent agencies in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K., have long constituted the Five Eyes alliance of intelligence sharing. And like the NSA’s fire-plagued data center in Utah, the CSEC is constructing a controversial $1.2 billion ($1.17 billion USD) spy center in Ottawa.

The BCCLU has its American counterparts, too. Online privacy advocates like the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and American Civil Liberties Union are all currently suing the U.S. government over NSA spying.

Internet advocacy group Open Media has created a petition and fundraising campaign for the BCCLA. “We’re talking about a secretive agency having the power to spy on the private lives of any resident of Canada, at any time,” Open Media executive director Steve Anderson said in a statement. “We can’t even tell when we’ve been victimized by it.”

Photo by ch4os1337/Flickr (Remix by Fernando Alfonso III)

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*First Published: Oct 22, 2013, 3:49 pm CDT