New legislation proposed by the Tory government would give police increased powers to tap into Canadians' private online communications and allow officers to use cell phones as tracking devices.

Another major piece of the legislation would give law enforcement officials the ability to access personal information without a warrant -- powers that go too far, according to some privacy advocates.

Under two proposed bills presented Thursday, police would be able to:

  • Get an Internet user's name, address and email contact without a warrant
  • Charge someone for arranging sex exploitation with another person over the Net
  • Gain data about the origin and destination of an online discussion
  • Turn on tracking devices inside cell phones

The rules would also force:

  • Internet providers to keep data on their hard drives in case a user tries to delete information relevant to criminal investigations
  • Telecommunications companies to research ways in which they could intercept online conversations

Vincent Gogolek, policy director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, said the legislation bypasses due process and creates a legal shortcut where warrants were once required.

"There are going to be officials in a bunch of government departments, who are going to have the power to authorize seizure of electronic communication data. And that just shouldn't happen without a warrant from a judge."

While the government says the new rules are needed to update archaic laws which were drafted during the era of the rotary telephone, Gogolek questioned that explanation.

"They've been saying that since the last millennium," Gogolek told CTV News Channel from Vancouver Thursday.

"Every time this comes up, we keep asking them, 'tell us what your problems are, show us some examples where the current laws haven't worked,' and they always fall back on hypothetical" scenarios, he said.

"It's like a bad zombie movie, where every few years, this proposal -- which we think has been killed off -- keeps coming back."

Gogolek added that Canada's laws already recognize the principle of "hot pursuit," which allows police to expedite investigations.

The two bills were introduced Thursday by Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who say Canada's laws need to be updated in order to fight high-tech criminals.

"Twenty-first century technology calls for 21st century tools for police to effectively investigate crime," said Nicholson in Ottawa.

Van Loan noted: "The legislation contains important tools to allow our law enforcement community and our intelligence officials to combat crime and terrorism in the face of rapidly evolving communications technologies."

Later in the day, Van Loan defended the legislation as a simple update of the current laws.

"There is nothing that allows the police to look at emails without a warrant," Van Loan told CTV's Power Play.

When asked about particular circumstances where the current laws have fallen short, Van Loan pointed to a recent kidnapping investigation in British Columbia, which was delayed by more than 36 hours as officers attempted to get a warrant to trace a suspect through cellular telephone.

"They want to intervene in those kinds of situations immediately," Van Loan said,

Still, the legislation doesn't respect the privacy of Canadians, critics say.

"I haven't seen the evidence that substantiates a relaxation of civil liberties in this area," said David Fewer, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"It just looks like a grab, under the name of modernization, just a grab of our civil liberties."