VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - Canada is embroiled in a domestic spying scandal similar to the United States' turmoil over Edward Snowden, with revelations that the Communications Security Establishment Canada has been snooping on citizens' private communications based on dubious legal authority.
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association claims the Attorney General of Canada violated the Constitution by authorizing CSEC to intercept emails, telephone calls, text messages and other data. The Civil Liberties Association sued the government in B.C. Supreme Court.
Under Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act, which amended the National Defence Act, the Minister of National Defence "may authorize CSEC to intercept private communications for two purposes: for obtaining foreign intelligence or for protecting the computer systems or networks of the Government of Canada from mischief, unauthorized use or interference," the complaint states.
According to the lawsuit, the little-known agency is tasked with "national electronic intelligence gathering ... and is charged with collecting signals intelligence, which includes the covert acquisition and processing of foreign electronic communications for the purpose of advancing Canadian interests in defence, security and international affairs."
The agency shares information with counterparts in the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, according to the complaint. It also works with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Between 2002 and 2012, the defense minister allegedly issued or renewed authorizations for interceptions nearly 60 times.
The Civil Liberties Association claims that interception of private communications and retention of metadata violates Charter of Rights and Freedoms - Canada's version of the U.S. Bill of Rights -which promises the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and the right to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.
The association is represented by Joseph J. Arvay with Arvay Finlay Barristers in Vancouver.