Security bill raises privacy fears
Police would gain access to personal phone, Net information
By JIM BRONSKILL
The Canadian Press
20 November 2005
OTTAWA ó Security officials could demand personal information about phone and Internet subscribers under proposed legislation that quickly sparked privacy concerns Tuesday.
The bill introduced by the Liberals would ensure police and CSIS officials could obtain a personís name, address, telephone or cellphone number, or the technical data that identifies a computerís co-ordinates on the Internet.
The proposed law would also force phone companies and Internet providers to phase out technical barriers to police and security agencies seeking access to messages or conversations.
The measures represent the latest federal effort to ensure terrorists and other criminals cannot use advanced digital technologies to shield their communications from authorities.
Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan said Canada is "well behind other nations" when it comes to giving law enforcement agencies such tools.
She said police must be able to "stop the child pornographer sending his disgusting images around this country and around the world."
McLellan said the new scheme for providing subscriber information to authorities would clarify existing practices.
Currently, before handing over customer data, communication companies have discretion as to whether to require a court-approved warrant from police or security officials.
Micheal Vonn, policy director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said police should have a warrant in order to obtain information about a subscriber.
"The point here is, if the police canít be troubled with getting a warrant, itís because they havenít met the standard of reasonable and probable grounds to access the warrant," she said.
"On some level, it is what we would call a fishing expedition."
The government says release of subscriber information to authorities would be subject to stringent privacy safeguards.
For instance, only designated police or CSIS officials could make such a request. In addition, they would have to record the reasons for any such request and make the files available for audit purposes.
Critics said the protection regime is weak because it occurs after the disclosure has been made.
Under the Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act, as the bill is called, telephone and Internet service providers will be required to include the capability to intercept messages in new technology they install.
Government, industry representatives and police are working out who would pick up the day-to-day costs of the plan, such as the fees incurred in hooking up security agencies to the communication networks.
Parke Davis, a senior regulatory officer with Telus, said he was worried about the potential costs to his company of both new equipment and ongoing assistance to police.
"We have concerns because while we support the principle of providing lawful access, weíre being asked to shoulder the costs of providing this access almost as an unpaid deputy for the government," Davis said.
Currently some police forces reimburse communications firms while others do not, saying the police should not have to foot the bill for court-ordered services such as wiretaps.
Other elements of the plan that would spell out how companies must go about preserving electronic message data and the manner in which authorities can gain access to it are expected in a followup bill from Justice Minister Irwin Cotler.
However, the legislation introduced Tuesday will probably die on the Commons order paper, as a general election call is expected sometime in the coming weeks.
© Halifax Herald 2005