VANCOUVER – A British Columbia civil liberties group is suing a federal government agency over allegations it has spied on Canadian citizens.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says the Communications Security Establishment Canada has violated charter rights by intercepting private communications online and over the telephone.
The lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court says the federal agency has illegally collected information on Canadians by reading personal emails and text messages, and listening in on conversations with people outside of Canada.
Association lawyer Joseph Arvay said at a news conference CSEC’s actions have a chilling effect on all Canadians.
“Such untrammelled spying will cause Canadians to censor themselves on matters that are perfectly legal but involve personal, business, political or the intimate details of one’s life for fear that such details will be intercepted by the spy,” he said.
“Persons who may have friends, family, business associates, political allies or lovers in countries where CSEC may believe or suspect that there are terrorists, which is just about everywhere in the world, will now simply refrain from engaging in what would otherwise be perfectly legal communications.”
The lawsuit is believed to be the first such legal action against the highly secretive federal agency over spying activities.
The association said CSEC is engaging in behaviour similar to the activites of the U.S. National Security Agency — the organization at the centre of a growing spy scandal south of the border exposed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
Arvay said unchecked government surveillance is a grave threat to democratic freedoms.