Privacy advocates ‘fight back’ against CSEC’s $4.2 billion spy palace

Privacy advocates around the world are uniting, on Tuesday, in an international day of action to speak-out against government spying.

Organizers of "the day we fight back against mass surveillance" describe themselves as a "broad coalition of activist groups, companies, and online platforms."

The Canadian contingent — headed up by Open Media — are tying their efforts to Tuesday's federal budget as it relates to Canada's electronic eavesdropping agency known as the Communications Security Establishment Canada or CSEC.

Specifically, they're targeting the $4.2 billion price tag to build and operate the new CSEC headquarters — in Ottawa — often referred to as the 'spy palace.'

"I think most Canadians would say that this is a terrible waste of money. This is the most expensive government building ever built." Open Media's communications manager David Christopher told Yahoo Canada News in a telephone interview.

"We could build around 60 new schools or 30 new rural hospitals for that money and I think most Canadians would say that would be a far better use of taxpayer dollars than spending it on this lavish spy palace that's got things like fountains and really posh fire places."

According to a recent CBC News report, the cost to build the new headquarters is pegged at about $1.2 billion; the developers of the facility — which will house 2,000 employees — have also been given a $3 billion 30-year contract to manage and maintain the building.

Construction began in early 2011.

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Open Media is also railing against the annual budget for CSEC which they claim is approximately $460 million a year.

After flying under the public radar, CSEC has been the subject of some pretty shocking allegations over the past several months.

In October, it was reported that the spy agency conducted a cyber-espionage campaign against Brazil’s mines and energy ministry.

In November, CBC News reported on documents retrieved by NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden which suggested Canada allowed the U.S. to conduct widespread surveillance during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits in Ontario.

And most recently, another CBC report alleged that CSEC used airport WiFi to track Canadian travelers.

[ Related: Anger over CSEC Wi-Fi spying ]

Open Media — and their coalition of privacy advocates — is asking Canadians to visit their new website to tell MPs that they want to a stop to this "wasteful" spending.

"We're spending all this taxpayer money that is spying on law abiding citizens," Christopher said.

"That's why so many of us are speaking out about this."

For their part, the Harper government continues to insist that CSEC isn't spying on Canadians and isn't doing anything illegal.

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