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Civil liberties, pro-democracy, privacy rights, and open Internet groups call for answers on secret government spying program

A group of organizations focused on civil liberties, pro-democracy, privacy rights, and open access to the Internet have joined to together to demand answers and immediate action from the government after it was revealed that a secretive government agency has been spying on the telephone and Internet activities of individuals, including law-abiding Canadians.

The organizations speaking out today include the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BCFIPA), Council of Canadians, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Leadnow, OpenMedia.ca, Privacy & Access Council of Canada, the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, and the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). OpenMedia.ca worked with many of these same organizations to host the StopSpying.ca campaign that successfully defeated the government’s online spying bill C-30.

The group of organizations is putting the following statement to Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper and is encouraging Canadians to sign on to the statement through an online campaign hosted at: http://SecretSpying.ca

“We deserve to know if our private information is being collected and stored in giant unsecured databases. We call on the government to make public the details of Canadian foreign intelligence agencies’ online spying and data sharing activities, including those involving foreign states. We demand an immediate stop to any programs of indiscriminate and arbitrary online spying.”

New online spying revelations have come hot on the heels of reports that the U.S. government has been caught spying on all its citizens using a massive spying program called PRISM, which pulled in data through cell phones,1 as well as through popular online services like Google, Facebook, and Skype.

In 2011, Defence Minister Peter MacKay authorized a secretive spying agency called the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) to scour the Internet and phone records of millions of people, including Canadian citizens - despite warnings from the government’s own privacy commissioner.  The program originally started in 2005, but had been suspended due to privacy concerns before Minister MacKay reauthorized it in 2011.

According to online surveillance expert Ron Deibert, CSEC spying gives them the power to “pinpoint not only who you are, but with whom you meet, with what frequency and duration, and at which locations.”

“We’ve already been hearing from angry citizens who are outraged by the government’s invasion of their privacy,” says OpenMedia.ca Executive Director Steve Anderson. “Hasn’t the government learned its lesson for its defeated spying Bill C-30 that Canadians value their privacy? Its time for answers and an immediate end to invasive collection of our sensitive private information without oversight or accountability.”

Privacy law expert Tamir Israel said today, "Individuals need to understand the true scope and nature of how Canada's foreign intelligence apparatus is using the broad surveillance powers it has been granted by Parliament. Absent such an understanding, they cannot ensure their rights are secure from excessive and disproportionate surveillance activities."

The groups say Canadians deserve clear answers from the government to a number of important questions:

- What are the scope and parameters of CSEC's domestic surveillance activities? Do these approach the indiscriminate scope of the NSA under comparable powers?

    - What is the extent to which Canadians are incidentally or otherwise captured in CSEC's surveillance activities? Specifically, how many individuals, including law-abiding Canadians, have had their information collected as a result of CSEC's surveillance programs?

    - What is the scope of the government’s information sharing activities with foreign partners? Does CSEC have the same type of access to NSA portals such as PRISM as its UK counterpart, GCHQ, reportedly has?

    - Will the government restrict CSEC’s powers to ensure that the use of these powers is subject to public debate and that individuals can generally be aware of the conditions under which their communications and activities might be surveilled?

    - Will the government curtail the overly broad and indiscriminate powers granted to CSEC in the past decade, so that they can only be used against individuals reasonably suspected of wrongdoing?

        Canadians can send the government a clear message to keep our private lives private by signing this petition at: http://SecretSpying.ca

        About OpenMedia.ca

        OpenMedia.ca is a network of people and organizations working to safeguard the possibilities of the open Internet. We work toward informed and participatory digital policy.

        Through campaigns such as DemandChoice.caStopTheMeter.ca and StopSpying.ca, OpenMedia.ca has engaged over half-a-million Canadians, and has influenced public policy and federal law.

        OpenMedia.ca lead the related StopSpying.ca campaign that defeated the government’s online spying Bill C-30. For more see this infographic:http://openmedia.ca/sites/openmedia.ca/files/imce/timeline_infographicV3-Final3-small.jpg

        -30-

        Contact

        David Christopher
        Communications Coordinator, OpenMedia.ca
        1-778-232-1858
        david@openmedia.ca

        More Information

        - The secretive CSEC agency has a staff of more than 2,000 and a budget of about $400 million. [Source: CBC News]

        - Surveillance expert Ron Deibert on the threat spy agencies pose for citizens.

        - Internet Law expert Michael Geist on why Canadians should be concerned about government spying.

        - Privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart says there are significant concerns about the scope of information that CSEC are reported to collect. [Source: CBC News]

        - In this article, The Globe and Mail describes the revelations about Canadian government spying as “disturbing and unacceptable”

        - This document, obtained by The Globe through Access to Information, shows how Minister MacKay authorized a top secret program to data-mine global ‘metadata’ in 2011.

           

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