Online surveillance bill will fight cyber crime: minister
Published Tuesday, February 14, 2012 11:20PM EST
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says new legislation to make it easier for law enforcement to conduct electronic surveillance "will slow down the proliferation of child pornography," but the Opposition charges the bill will allow the government to spy on ordinary Canadians' online activities.
Toews tabled the legislation, called the "Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act," on Tuesday.
He said the bill would require telecommunications service providers to implement and maintain systems by which they can monitor and intercept communications, as well as systems to allow them to more quickly respond to requests for basic subscriber information from law enforcement agencies.
The legislation also outlines six pieces of basic personal information that telecom service providers will now be required to hand over to law enforcement without a warrant, including a name and address tied to a particular ISP address that police are investigating.
Toews told CTV's Power Play that current laws do little to prevent child pornography from proliferating.
"We need to put an end to it," Toews said.
He added that information telecom providers would be required to give to police are basic details that will then allow officers to obtain warrants.
"Without a warrant, police are not allowed to look at the contents of any email and nor are they allowed to follow you on the web," Toews said.
Toews pointed out that the law contains oversight mechanisms, which require police to compile information about these types of requests and how they have used the information, and issue reports to the relevant government ministers.
But the New Democrats said they see no justification for the new legislation allowing for expanded online monitoring powers.
After the bill was tabled, NDP MP Charlie Angus charged that, with the legislation, the government is breaking a promise made before the last election that it would not support "spying on Canadians without judicial oversight."
Angus said he understands that cyber crime is a growing concern, and said his party wants to make sure law enforcement agencies have the tools they need.
But he said his party also wants to ensure that Canadians' rights to privacy and judicial oversight are protected.
During question period in the House of Commons, Angus said the bill was akin to "putting an electronic prisoner's bracelet on everyone with a cellphone," and accused the government of treating law-abiding citizens "like criminals" by tracking their online activity.
Toews fired back, saying Angus's accusations were "false."
"There is nothing in the bill that allows the police to snoop on individual private conversations or even to follow a person's activities on the web," he said. "All that has to be done is through a judicially authorized warrant."
Government defends bill
Toews said during a news conference the bill does not allow the government to monitor private conversations, web activity or emails of Canadians without a warrant. And it will not allow police to look at the substance of an email or follow someone's Internet use without a warrant.
Toews said law enforcement agencies have been hampered during investigations, particularly into child pornography and abductions, by differing technological capabilities and policies for sharing information of telecomm service providers (TSPs).
Toews said there have been instances when law enforcement or national security agencies "have the lawful authority to intercept communication," but have been prevented from doing so by a lack of capacity on the part of the ISPs.
Paul Gillespie, president and CEO of the Kids Internet Safety Alliance and a former investigator with the Toronto police child exploitation centre, said the legislation would require telecom service providers to keep up with technological innovations that allow criminals to stay under police radar.
He said the basic information police could obtain without a warrant would be key to beginning to build a case against an online predator.
"This expedites things, and the reason it's important is because on the Internet we're seeing thousands of such cases coming to light these days, and we've seen it almost grow out of control," Gillespie told CTV's National Affairs.
"And if we don't increase the response or at least help law enforcement move a little quicker in some of these cases, we're just sort of chasing our tails."
Gillespie said the court system will always hold police accountable for how they obtain and use the information, because judges have the authority to determine if investigators "acted legally and lawfully and in good faith."
But Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor and an expert on privacy issues, said most telecom service providers already comply with requests for basic subscriber information.
Geist said the search warrant process ensures oversight during investigations, and mandating that providers hand over subscriber information removes that system of check and balance.
"That's the kind of privacy protection that exists within the law today. It's the kind of privacy protection that courts who have looked at this issue in any number of different cases, not just in crime cases but also dealing with things like copyright, have said that's how we try to strike a balance," Geist told National Affairs.
On Monday, Toews sparked outrage among the opposition parties when he told a Liberal MP during question period that not supporting the legislation would be akin to siding with child pornographers.
When asked about Toews' quote, Angus told reporters earlier Tuesday the minister should "stop hiding behind the bogeyman."
"I think Vic Toews has besmirched his reputation as a minister. I think he needs to be honest with Canadians," Angus said. "And if this government wants to tell the Conservative base, if they want to tell average Canadians that they think it's okay to spy on every activity of the Canadian public on the Internet, well he should have the guts to come out and say that."
Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has also expressed concerns over previous incarnations of the legislation.
Stoddart has said she is particularly troubled by provisions that would allow police to access Internet subscriber information without first getting permission from a court.
Assistant privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier said she is still unclear exactly under what circumstances police can obtain information without a warrant.
"It doesn't say why the police can ask, it doesn't speak of the circumstances, it is not subject to judicial oversight. So really it is quite limitless," Bernier told Power Play. "We need to see why this seems to be needed and why couldn't we tailor it to certain circumstances, such as the suspicion of criminal activity?"
With files from The Canadian Press