Don’t change lawful access rules, Parliamentary committee recommends

Liberal-dominated parliamentary committee says the government shouldn’t change the current lawful access regime that limits the ability of police to get at telecom subscriber information and encrypted data unless they have a warrant.

The recommendation came this week from the House of Commons’ public safety and national security committee as part of a broad review of the country’s national security framework. Last year the Trudeau government launched a public consultation into federal national security policy, which included the parliamentary committee’s work.

The government hasn’t given an indication yet of when a new policy will be issued.

A number of police departments have called for Ottawa to allow law enforcement to more easily get access to subscriber metadata – including names, street addresses, email addresses and IP addresses — for investigation as well as more tools to enable them to crack suspicious encrypted communications.

However, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2014 that police need a judicial warrant to get meta data. Meanwhile there has been fierce debate over what kind of help police and intelligence agencies can be given to crack encrypted data. Some suggest police be given the authority to order suspects to hand over passwords or encryption keys, as well as compel software companies to install back doors to programs so encrypted messages can be broken. But experts argue that any back doors work both ways – allowing criminals and foreign countries to break encrypted messages as well as police.

The recommendations by the parliamentary committee – endorsed by the Liberals and the NDP – could be a sign of the way the government is leaning. But the committee’s recommendation did leave police faint hope.

The two recommendations involving communications are

–”That at this time, and following the [2014] Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Spencer, no changes to the lawful access regime for subscriber information and encrypted information be made, but that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security continue to study such rapidly evolving technological issues related to cyber security.

–”That the Communications Security Establishment, [the federal electronic spy agency] in acting upon the requests of other national security agencies regarding the surveillance of private communications and the gathering and retention of metadata, work only with appropriate warrants from the agencies making such requests.

In submissions to the government last year the information and telecommunications industry was almost solidly against suggestions police should have access without a warrant to basic subscriber information they hold.

Today a spokesperson for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CTWA) which represents most of the country’s wireless carriers, said the group had no comment on the committee’s recommendations because government policy hasn’t changed.

“Our position was an remains that we care deeply about our customers’ privacy and we also care about the public safety issues all Canadians face,” said Sophie Paluck, CTWA’s director of communications. “We comply with lawful access requests, but we don’t hesitate to challenge them if they seem over-reaching … Because the regime isn’t changing our commitment to privacy and security is continuing.”

The parliamentary committee also made other national-security related recommendations including increasing the funding of all public safety and national security review bodies, limiting the powers of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and more oversight over federal national security bodies.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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