The federal privacy commissioner responds to a plea from the country’s police chiefs for Parliament to get cracking on the controversial proposed legislation

Battle over lawful access bill heats up

Canada’s privacy commissioner and the head of the country’s association of chiefs of police both agree the Harper government’s proposed lawful telecom access law needs some fixing.

But commissioner Jennifer Stoddart says Vancouver chief constable Jim Chu is wrong to insist the information behind an Internet subscriber’s IP address – which the proposed Bill C-30 would give law enforcement agencies access to without a warrant – is the same as information police can get from a phone book.

In a letter to editors released Wednesday, Stoddart said the phone book analogy “vastly underestimates what it (an IP address) may reveal about someone. Unlike a phone book, information behind an IP address is not generally publicly available and can unlock doors to much more information about people.”

Stoddart said her office is still looking at the degree of intrusiveness the proposed bill would make available to law enforcement to ensure privacy issues are addressed.

“It is true that law enforcement powers need to be modernized,” the letter says in part, “but so too do the laws that ensure Canadians’ privacy rights are fully respected. The Privacy Act, which applies to federal departments and agencies, has not been substantially amended in more than 30 years and, as a result, citizens have little mechanism for redress when things go wrong. The federal private sector privacy law, PIPEDA, is also well overdue for an update.”

The latest version of the proposed – and often re-written – act was introduced in February.

But facing loud public protests the government pulled it off the House of Commons agenda for further review.
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Stoddart’s letter was sent in response to an Oct. 26 news release sent out by Chu, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, renewing law enforcement lobbying for C-30.

Chu’s plea in part is that lawful access legislation has been introduced into the Commons before, only to have it die on the order paper.

“If we don’t take a strong stance on this issue, Canadians will not appreciate the limitations that constrain law enforcement in the cyber world,” the release said. “Law enforcement continues to be handcuffed by legislation introduced in 1975, the days of the rotary phone. Today we allow new technologies to be used as a safe-haven for serious criminal activity, but are pulling back from using technology to prevent and investigate these serious crimes,” Chu said.

“If the laws from the 1970s are not modernized, then organized criminals will plan their killings and kidnappings using telecommunications providers who do not build into their systems the technical ability to be monitored for the purpose of gathering evidence. Terrorists will exploit these same gaps. Victims who have been scammed or extorted over the Internet will be told the electronic footprint linking the suspect to the crime has disappeared because the telecommunications provider has no legal obligation to preserve data.

“If a suspect lures a child using a child using a landline phone, basic subscriber information is available in a phone directory. But predators today don’t use old technology. The parent of a child who has been lured over the Internet will be told that the police search for their child is delayed because a warrant has to be obtained for basic subscriber information.”

Still, Chu said the police chiefs association does admit that a section of the proposed bill that would allow an designated law enforcement inspector to search anything at a telecom provider’s office to verify compliance with the act needs to be changed.

There is no intention to give police unfettered access to personal records of telecom subscribers, he said.

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