Bill would let police monitor your e-mail
Judge's permission would not be needed
CanWest News Service
Friday, August 19, 2005
OTTAWA - The federal cabinet will review new legislation this fall that would give police and security agencies vast powers to begin surveillance of the Internet without court authority.
The new measures would allow law-enforcement agents to intercept personal e-mails, text messages and possibly even password-secure websites used for purchasing and financial transactions.
University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, a law and privacy expert involved in consultations over the bill, said a draft version of the legislation circulated earlier this year did not require court authority for police to intercept communications or demand information from Internet servers.
"I think it's the kind of legislation that is literally going to shock millions of Canadians," said Geist.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler disclosed the plan during a speech to a conference of police boards from across the country.
He told reporters he and Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan are preparing a memorandum to cabinet following months of discussions with police, privacy experts and the Internet industry.
Cotler said law enforcement agencies have lagged behind as use of the worldwide web exploded over the past decade.
An internal briefing note for the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service last February said it has become increasingly difficult for the agency to intercept communications for surveillance purposes and supported legislation to give law agencies more powers.
Cotler says the government wants to put police and security forces on a "level playing field."
"Criminals and terrorists are making use of the most sophisticated technology," said Cotler. "They have become experts, frankly, in transborder communications and transportation technology."
Cotler said the government is aware of objections around the impact on privacy as well as the effect the surveillance could have on the legal rights of citizens.
Under current law, it is illegal to intercept and open letter mail, but it is unclear whether e-mails are in the same legal category.
The Defence Department's Communications Security Establishment has the ability to intercept all telephone communications within Canada and calls across the border, but must obtain ministerial permission to intercept and record telephone calls in which at least one Canadian citizen is involved.
And police need court permission to eavesdrop on telephone conversations.
"I hope we will come up with a memorandum to cabinet that can protect human security in the sense that we will put law enforcement people on the same level playing field as criminals and terrorists in the matter of using technology and accessing that technology, and at the same time we will protect the civil libertarian concerns that are involved," said Cotler.
Geist said the version of the legislation that was circulated by the government failed to protect the privacy and legal rights of citizens. It also placed a severe requirement on Internet service providers to hold data and records of Internet and e-mail use by their clients.
He said the draft version allowed police the right to telephone Internet service providers around the clock, and require them to provide records and data on client files within 30 minutes.
Windsor-Tecumseh MP Joe Comartin, NDP justice critic, said MPs on the Commons justice committee who heard testimony about child pornography over the Internet concluded police do not have enough power to adequately investigate and prosecute offenders.
"Generally, members of the committee from all parties are concerned about the limitations police are operating under," said Comartin. "Our police forces always seem to be lagging behind."
Ran with fact box "'Lagging Behind'" which has been appendedto the story.
© The Windsor Star 2005