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Citizen Lab's Ron Deibert, left, worked with other researchers to uncover an internet spy network in China and develop software to bypass censorship. (Glenn Lowson/Citizen Lab)

The Citizen Lab, the Toronto-based centre that investigates digital spying and has developed software to circumvent censorship, is to be honoured by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression at its annual gala.

The lab has been named winner of the 2010 Vox Libera Award granted annually to a Canadian individual or organization for an outstanding commitment to the principles of free expression.

"The Citizen Lab's fight for open communication and free expression is making a significant difference for those living in repressed regions of the world," CBC broadcaster Carol Off, who chairs the CJFE gala steering committee, said in a statement Monday announcing the win.

"Their work enables people to share crucial information and exposes those who would try to do them harm." 

Citizen Lab, which runs out of the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, gained prominence in 2008 after it uncovered an alleged internet spy network based mostly in China.

The lab exposed a huge filtering system in China that tracks and keeps records of text messages containing politically charged words sent through the internet phone application Skype.

In 2010, Citizen Lab and partner the SecDev Group uncovered computers at embassies and government departments in 103 countries that had been compromised by a virus originating from servers in China.

It also created the software psiphon, which helps internet users in repressive countries get around censorship.

During protests against the results of the 2009 Iranian election, Citizen Lab helped activists exchange ideas via Twitter and blogs by helping them bypass government restrictions.

The lab, founded by Ron Deibert, is a group of security researchers and human rights activists who focus on the intersection of civic politics and digital media.

The Citizen Lab will be honoured at the CJFE gala on Nov. 25 that will be attended by 500 Canadian journalists.

The CJFE, which works to advance free expression, will also honour international journalists Emilio Gutierrez Soto and Luis Horacio Nájera of Mexico, and Serge Sabouang, Robert Mintya and the late Bibi Ngota of Cameroon for their fearless reporting.