FIPA and allies call for answers on secret government spying program

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has joined together with civil liberties, pro-democracy, privacy, and open internet advocacy groups across the country 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.

Organizations speaking out today include the Council of Canadians, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Leadnow, OpenMedia.ca, the Privacy & Access Council of Canada, the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, and the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). Many of these same organizations worked together on last year’s StopSpying.ca campaign that successfully defeated the government’s online spying bill C-30.

Alongside these allies, FIPA is putting the following declaration to Defense Minister Peter MacKay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. We encourage Canadians to join us by adding their voices 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.

The revelation of widespread online spying in Canada comes hot on the heels of reports that the U.S. government has been caught spying on all its citizens through its massive PRISM spying system, which captures data transmitted by cell phones as well as popular online services like Google, Facebook, and Skype.

In 2011, Minister 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 privacy commissioner.

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 it’s 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.”

This coalition believes that 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, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jun/07/uk-gathering-secret-intelligence-nsa-prism:”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 deserve and must demand better than this from their government. Visit http://SecretSpying.ca and send a clear message to Ottawa today: we have the right to keep our private lives private.