Canadians will likely pay for online surveillance bill
Published Wednesday, February 22, 2012 11:29PM EST
Initial cost estimates to implement the federal government's online surveillance bill run into the tens of millions of dollars, and experts say those costs will be passed on to Canadians by either the government, or the companies forced to upgrade their technology to comply with the legislation's requirements.
Public Safety Canada is estimating it could cost $80 million over four years for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Telecommunications Service Providers (TSPs) to acquire the necessary hardware and software to engage in the type of surveillance allowed for in Bill C-30. The legislation is also known as the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.
The bill would require TSPs and ISPs to hand over basic information about their clients at the request of law enforcement or spy agencies, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), without a warrant. It would also allow that data to be duplicated without proper oversight.
A massive backlash erupted last week after Public Safety Minister Vic Toews unveiled the bill, including a short-lived Twitter account that dispensed salacious details from the public record of Toews's divorce.
Backers of the bill, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, say it will make it easier for law enforcement agencies to prevent and solve crimes.
Critics of the bill say it allows agencies access to Canadians' private information without due process.
Tom Copeland, chair of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, says the initial costs to a small ISP such has himself will run into the tens of thousands of dollars just to acquire the necessary hardware and software.
But he said the costs could easily soar.
"That's part of the quandary we're in right now because we don't know what level of simultaneous intercepts or simultaneous wiretaps we're expected to be able to handle," Copeland told CTV's Power Play Wednesday.
"But at the initial stages we're guessing it's going to be in the tens of thousands of dollars for a small ISP and upwards from there just depending on the volume of intercepts you're supposed to be able to complete."
Copeland said complying with the law "has to be cost neutral for us, otherwise we have no choice but to pass that cost along to our clients."
He says that Canadians will either pay for the bill when their ISP passes on the costs to their customers, or they will pay with their tax dollars.
In a "Myths and Facts" document posted to the Public Safety Canada website, the agency says that equipment already in place when the legislation comes into effect "is only required to maintain existing capability."
However, the agency says the law is written with the understanding it will be "more cost-effective to incorporate intercept capability at the design stage than it is to include it in equipment already in use."
To that end, the law grants an 18-month grace period for companies to get their technology up to speed with the law, and promises "reasonable compensation" to TSPs in "instances where the RCMP or CSIS require them to implement intercept capability that goes over and above the legislative requirements."
It also allows for compensation "for the specialized telecommunications support" they provide police and CSIS in performing interceptions and providing basic subscriber information.
British Columbia blogger Christopher Parsons, an expert in online surveillance bills in other jurisdictions, says the costs of the bill could balloon well beyond initial estimates, and could have more far-reaching implications than the public suspects.
According to Parsons, an online surveillance law enacted in 1994 in the United States was initially projected to cost about $500 million. Ten years later, industry estimates put the price tag at a minimum of between $1.3 billion and $1.7 billion.
He said independent auditors in the U.S. have been unable to pin down the law's exact costs, and he suspects "it's going to be incredibly hard to evaluate what these costs will be for C-30 over the long term."
Parsons also points out that because CSIS is among the agencies that can request information under the bill, the information could end up in the U.S. if Canada signs a cross-border security deal with the United States.
"I think that what we're seeing with this legislation is law enforcement's carrying a lot of water for other parties. This is an intelligence and surveillance bill. So not just the RCMP, OPP and other policing forces, they're not the only ones that get into this, it's also CSIS," Parsons told Power Play.
"And so with a cross border deal, we don't know exactly what's included in that, but we can expect broader cross-border data sharing and that will be between intelligence bodies as well as regular policing agencies."