Proposed ISP access law threat to privacy, say groups

Privacy groups are increasing pressure on the Harper government to change its plan to give law enforcement agencies the right to demand subscriber information from Internet providers and cellular carriers without a court order.

At a seminar Friday the three pieces of legislation – expected to be introduced after Parliament resumes Jan. 30 – were called “one of the greatest threats to privacy” by Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian and “an end run” around civil rights by Nathalie Des Rosiers, the general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

“These bills are bad for Canada, bad for the world and bad for human rights,” added University of Toronto political science professor Ron Deibert, a cybersecurity researcher.

They and others argue that police should have to get a judicial warrant to get identifying information such as an individual’s IP address. They also want independent oversight over what police do with the information they get.

Government spokesmen have likened the information to the kind of material one could get from a public phone book. But that suggestion was dismissed by Cavoukian (pictured), who said theyll be getting much more.
She worries that with the data police will trace an individual’s movements across the Internet regardless of whether there is evidence of criminal conduct.

Without independent oversight, added Des Rosiers, police could track “nosy journalists,” potential jurors, those who are critical of the police and politicians who oversee police budgets.

Internet service providers and wireless carriers – from BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and Telus Communications Co. to the smallest ISP – are watching closely for the latest version of the legislation and the accompanying regulations. The biggest carriers and cable companies have been quietly lobbying the government because unless changed the legislation could force them to buy monitoring equipment to comply.

A lawyer for a group independent ISPs warned last November the requirements could force some providers to close.

“Our main concern is that Internet service providers aren’t forced to bear the cost associated with all the extra powers the police have,” William Sandiford, president of the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (CNOC), which represents a number of independent ISPs, said Friday.

The Conservatives (and the previous Liberal government) have been trying to update Canada’s electronic communications surveillance legislation for years. The Harper government’s latest versions were encompassed in what were then called Bills C-50C-51 and C-52.

When introduced in November, 2010, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said that “we must ensure that law enforcement has the means to bring to justice those who would break the law. Twenty-first-century technology demands twenty-first-century tools for police to effectively investigate crime.”

Because they faced a minority government, the Tories didn’t have the votes to get the legislation through. But now that they have a majority political observers believe the Conservatives will likely succeed in getting what they want.

The most controversial of the three acts is what was called the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act, which lets law enforcement and security agencies get an order from a designated peace officer – not a judge – obliging ISPs to hand over certain personal identifying subscriber information.

That would include the name, address, telephone number and electronic mail address of any subscriber to any of the service provider’s telecommunications services and the Internet protocol address, mobile identification number, electronic serial number, local service provider identifier, international mobile equipment identity number, international mobile subscriber identity number and subscriber identity module card number that are associated with the subscriber’s service and equipment.

To intercept email, text messages and other communications police would have to get a judicial warrant.

The approach, complained Cavoukian at Friday’s seminar, goes against the “privacy by design” philosophy for governments and businesses that she has been urging. The strategy embeds citizen privacy policies in business practices and network infrastructure.

Instead, if unchanged, the Conservative legislation represents “surveillance by design,” she said.

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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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