Harper government to force Internet service providers to give police access to information on all Canadian Internet subscribers and all their private communications – without a court warrant.
Ottawa (22 June 2009) - Canada's Conservative government wants to give police sweeping new powers to eavesdrop on Canadians in cyberspace and to require Internet service providers (ISPs) to snoop on subscribers without a warrant whenever they are asked by police to do so.
Two bills - C-46 and C-47 - introduced in Parliament on June 18 would grant police access without oversight from the courts to all private Internet communications and all information on individual subscribers in the files of ISPs.
Specifically, the legislation would:
- free police to access information on an Internet subscriber, such as name, street address and e-mail address without a search warrant.
- force Internet service providers to freeze data on hard drives to prevent subscribers under investigation from deleting potentially important evidence.
- require telecommunications companies to invest in technology enabling them to intercept all of the Internet communications they handle.
- allow police to remotely activate tracking devices already embedded in cell phones and certain cars.
- allow police to obtain data about where Internet communications are coming from and going to.
- make it a crime to arrange with a second person over the Internet for the sexual exploitation of a child.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says police need "21st century tools" to deal with the changing times. Public Safety Minister Minister Peter Van Loan says the changes are needed to combat crime and terrorism in the face of "rapidly evolving communications technologies."
However, privacy groups and those defending individual rights have been quick to criticize the two bills.
"I haven't seen the evidence that substantiates a relaxation of civil liberties in this area," says David Fewer, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa. "It just looks like a grab, under the name of modernization, just a grab of our civil liberties."
Tom Copeland of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) said providers are concerned by the costs the legislation will impose on them to install technology to handle the potentially unlimited communications they are forced to monitor. Smaller ISPs would have up to three years to meet the full snooping requirements required by the bills.
Internet surveillance in other countries
United Kingdom - The Regulation of Investigatory Power Act of 2000 includes provisions to require ISPs to install systems to aid investigators in tracking electronic communications.
United States - The Patriot Act of 2001 expanded wiretaps to internet connections. The Bush administration authorized the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless domestic wiretaps in 2001, possibly earlier. The Protect America Act of 2007 and FISA Amendments Act of 2008 extended that authority.
Australia - The Surveillance Devices Bill of 2004 allows Australian Federal Police to obtain warrants for the use of data, optical, listening and tracking surveillance devices. The Intelligence Services Act of 2001 covers the use of surveillance devices by the country's security agencies.
New Zealand - The Search and Surveillance Powers Bill was introduced in September 2008 to update the surveillance powers and procedures of New Zealand's law enforcement agencies.
Sweden - Sweden's parliament approved new laws in June 2008 to allow the country's intelligence bureau to track sensitive words in international phone calls, faxes and e-mails without a court order. The law took effect in January 2009.
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