OTTAWA — The Conservative government wants to give police greater powers to eavesdrop on Canadians in cyberspace, but civil liberties advocates aren’t convinced the changes are justified.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan introduced two bills Thursday that would give law enforcement much greater access to private Internet communications.
The proposed legislation comes just a day before the House of Commons rises for the summer, and might not survive long before a potential fall election is triggered. Still, the Liberals tabled a similar bill when they were in power, and might back the Tory version.
The proposed legislation would:
• enable police to access information on an Internet subscriber, such as name, street address and email address, without having to get a search warrant.
• force Internet service providers to freeze data on their hard drives to prevent subscribers under investigation from deleting potentially important evidence.
• require telecommunications companies to invest in technology that allows for the interception of Internet communications.
• allow police to remotely activate tracking devices already embedded in cellphones and certain cars, to help with investigations.
• 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 the sexual exploitation of a child.
Nicholson, flanked by police officers, said the changes were necessary to keep up with the changing times.
“Twenty-first century technology calls for 21st century tools for police to effectively investigate crime,” he said.
Van Loan added: “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.”
Some Internet service providers willingly gave over such information to police in the past, but others insisted on warrants first because of fears of civil liability.
The federal ombudsman for victims of crime released a report earlier this month that estimated 30 to 40 per cent of requests by police for basic customer name and address information are denied without a warrant.
That frustrated police who were pursuing cases.
The new law would designate a select group of law enforcement officials, who would obtain the data. The retrieval and use of the information would be audited to ensure it is not being abused.
But Fewer said he would like to know more about the justification for removing the warrant hurdle. The sometimes lengthy time it takes to get a warrant is not a good enough reason, he said.
“Let’s figure out what’s wrong with the process and fix that. The answer is not doing a global relaxation of civil liberties in cyberspace.”