Civil liberties group sues Canada over spying

A Canadian civil liberties group on Tuesday sued the government's electronic eavesdropping agency, claiming that its "broad and unchecked" surveillance is unconstitutional and an illegal invasion of privacy.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association alleges that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC)'s interception of Canadians' private communications and sweeping collection of metadata are unconstitutional.

These activities, it said in a statement, amount to unreasonable search and seizure, and infringe on free expression -- as people who feel they are being watched may not speak freely.

Furthermore, in its lawsuit filed in the British Columbia Supreme Court the group demands that the agency obtain warrants from a judge for individual operations, rather than simply a nod from the minister of defense.

"Unaccountable and unchecked government surveillance presents a grave threat to democratic freedoms," BCCLA lawyer Joseph Arvay said in a statement.

"We are deeply concerned that CSEC is gaining secret, illegal access to the private communications of ordinary Canadians, and there are no reasonable safeguards in place to monitor its activities," he said.

"We know from the experiences of other countries that government agencies have a tendency to push and even break the boundaries of spying unless they are checked."

The CSEC has come under scrutiny after Brazilian TV station Globo alleged earlier this month that the agency had carried out industrial espionage against Brazil's government.

The report was based on documents leaked by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who is wanted by the United States after revealing details of its NSA's massive snooping activities.

CSEC head John Forster has said that his agency "does not target Canadians at home or abroad."

"Protecting the privacy of Canadians is our most important principle," he said in a speech in Ottawa on October 9.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has expressed concern about the allegations, but noted that an independent commissioner oversees the CSEC's activities to ensure compliance with Canadian laws.

The BCCLA said metadata collected by the CSEC is automatically produced each time a Canadian uses a mobile phone or accesses the Internet.

It includes the exact geographic location of the mobile phone user, records of phone calls and Internet browsing, and according to the BCCLA, can reveal "the most intimate details of Canadians' personal lives, including relationships, and political and personal beliefs."