In its final days before breaking for the summer, the federal government introduced legislation that will make it easier for police to obtain information on internet users.
If you’re organizing a protest via email or running a listserv for a sex club or bathhouse, or soliciting online, police will be able to obtain your name and address — and possibly a whole lot more.
The government introduced two bills — the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act and the Technical Assistance for Law Enforcement in the 21st Century Act — on Jun 18.
“We must ensure that law enforcement has the necessary tools to catch up to the bad guys and ultimately bring them to justice,” said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson at a press conference. “Twenty-first century technology calls for 21st-century tools.”
The Conservatives are using the spectre of child porn and sex hysteria to explain the need for police to be able to access intercepted online communications.
“Criminals, child pornographers, organized crime members and terrorists are aware of these interception safe havens,” said Public Safety Minister Peter van Loan at the same press conference.
The bills will force internet service providers (ISPs) to install technology capable of intercepting and storing information and transmissions from their subscribers. ISPs will have 18 months to install the equipment, unless they have less than 100,000 subscribers, in which case they have three years.
Once the equipment is installed, police will be able to require certain information from ISPs upon demand, without a warrant. That would include names, IP and home addresses of subscribers. Currently, police require a warrant to obtain such information, although ISPs provide such information without one under some circumstances.
Obtaining the actual content of your communications will still be slightly more difficult for police. Under the new legislation, police will be able to require an ISP to freeze all information and communications from a particular subscriber. The company would be unable to delete any information. Police would then have to obtain a “production order” from a court within 21 days to allow them to access that information or to force the ISP to hold the information for a further 90 days.
A production order, however, has a lower threshold of proof than a warrant. Police have to show “reasonable grounds to suspect criminal activity” — which could, of course, includes everything from a direct-action-style protest to two gay teens arranging to have sex. A warrant requires police to show reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence is actually being committed, legally a tougher standard to meet.
Of course, if an ISP is willing to just hand over the information to police, as a paper on the Public Safety Canada website says some are, then the whole thing becomes moot.
As for the technology required, while some ISPs are protesting at being forced to expand their infrastructure, the fact is some of the larger ISPs already use suitable technology, which gives them the power to pry into their clients’ online communications.
The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) has filed complaints against Bell and Rogers, among other ISPs, with the federal office of the Privacy Commissioner over the use of software called Deep Packet Technology to control their internet traffic.
“There’s almost no limit to what they can do,” CIPPIC director Philippa Lawson told Xtra in December. “They could be going through web traffic, e-mails, collecting that data and building up a profile.”
The legislation will not come before the legislature until parliament resumes sitting in the fall. But unless the bills are derailed by an election call, a vote in the house is likely to pass.
The Conservative measures are almost identical to a bill put forward in Nov 2005 by the then-Liberal government. That legislation died when an election was called, but contained the same measures as in the present bills.
And the NDP also buys into child porn hysteria. NDP MP Peter Stoffer put forward a private member’s bill in 2007 that would have required ISPs to monitor the activities of their clients, and would hold them criminally and financially responsible for any illegal material posted online by those clients.
“What’s the cost of protecting our children, of protecting society?” Stoffer told Xtra at the time. “The privacy advocates can go pound sand as far as I’m concerned. I have two young children. We should do everything in our power to protect children. I don’t believe in capital punishment, but I’m willing to make an exception. If it was my children, you wouldn’t have to worry about the law.”
Especially not about privacy laws, it seems.