Canadian bills help seize digital information

New "lawful access" legislation only a means of updating laws, says Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp

Under Bill C-52

Under Bill C-52

Three bills on Parliament’s agenda that have upset privacy watchdogs are drawing the same reaction from local NDP critic Elizabeth Rosenau.

She says Bills C-50, C-51 and C-52 will turn Internet service providers into “agents of the state,” because they’ll have to acquire equipment that will allow interception of communications and provide details about their clients to police.

The government hasn’t made the case about why it needs the greater powers, she added.

“We don’t know where this is going,” said Rosenau who unsuccessfully sought the NDP federal nomination last election.

“Over time, it could change things to include a lot. Basically, it’s Orwellian. It’s a Big Brother thing.”

Under the bills, left over from the previous session of Parliament, Internet companies would have six months to acquire the technology that would allow them to intercept customer communications.

Under Bill C-52, police will be able to get customers’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, IP addresses and electronic serial numbers, without getting a warrant and without a crime having been committed. The actual interception of e-mails would still require a warrant.

Bill C-51 allows police to tell a company to preserve its data for a temporary period until a warrant is available and also allows, with a warrant, activation of the tracking devices, such as GPS devices that are found in cars and cellphones, while making it tougher to get a warrant to plant a tracking device on an individual.

Police, provided they have authorization from a court-ordered warrant, can activate a data recorder that will allow them real-time tracking of Internet communications.

Bill C-50 allows the use of a telephone recorder without a warrant if the situation is urgent, something the Criminal Code already allows.

The measures bother Rosenau because of the government’s overall get-tough-on-crime approach, demonstrated in its omnibus crime bill, which has passed through the House of Commons and is now in the Senate.

“They basically have a radical agenda when it comes to crime. They’re seeing crime where we don’t see crime.”

When you increase surveillance and make Internet providers agents of the government, you don’t know where it’s going to go, she said.

She pointed out that China controls its Internet by targeting its enforcement at Internet service providers, rather than focusing on the millions of subscribers.

“There’s a lot of spying that goes on and there’s a lot of politics, too.”

Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, feels the same way and says so in an October letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

“Despite repeated calls, no systematic case has yet been made to justify the extent of the new investigative capabilities that would have been created by the bills.

“Canadian authorities have yet to provide the public with evidence to suggest that CSIS or Canadian police cannot perform their duties under the current regime.  One-off cases and isolated incidents should not prove the rule, nor should exigent or emergency circumstances, for which there are already Criminal Code provisions.”

Stoddart said the bills would have allowed government to subject more individuals to surveillance and scrutiny. “In brief, these bills went far beyond simply maintaining investigative capacity or modernizing search powers.

“Rather, they added significant new capabilities for investigators to track, and search and seize digital information about individuals. “

She adds, there is not even a requirement for the commission of a crime to justify access to personal information – real names, home address, unlisted numbers, e-mail addresses, IP addresses and much more – without a warrant. “Only prior court authorization provides the rigorous privacy protection Canadians expect.”

Ontario’s privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian also opposes the laws and has set up a website on the topic (

However, according to Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp, the legislation is an attempt to keep up with changing technologies and is needed to combat child pornography, criminal gangs and terrorists – a similar approach to that used in Sweden, the U.S. and Australia. The bills were left over from the previous session of Parliament and could see changes by the time they’re re-introduced.

“We expect this will have significant debate.”

Kamp repeated Toews’ contention that the ability to collect subscriber information is no different than looking in a phone book or matching addresses with phone numbers.

As for the claim that the legislation will allow police to intercept e-mail messages without a warrant, “that’s a fabrication that’s been floating around for awhile about this bill and it’s just not true.

“Our government is pretty committed to not allowing police to read e-mails without a warrant.”

Pitt Meadows Internet blogger Richard Pitt is generally concerned about the amount of information that can be collected today. “Everybody’s guilty of something, somewhere – there are no ifs or buts.”

What if a politician visited porn sites during high school? Police could ask for more money or resources in return for keeping that information private, he suggested.

“We can keep track of every movement of everybody, forever.”

Maple Ridge database programer/analyst Alex Pope said people shouldn’t make any assumptions about Internet privacy. “I would never consider e-mail to be secure anyway.”

E-mails can be routed to servers in different countries, possibly the U.S., where those servers could be under surveillance. Spam software can easily track key words, which could trigger monitoring.

Pope notes that any data on Canadians that’s stored in U.S. servers is now subject to the Patriot Act, which allows police to intercept messages.

He agrees, “police have to have the tools to enforce the laws.

“As soon as you get into a situation where no warrants are required, then my concerns increase.”