Ottawa Poised to become Big Brother

Bob Carrick
Globe and Mail Update

Ottawa's proposal to force companies that provide on-line access to let police spy on their customers' Web and e-mail activities has Internet-industry observers concerned.

A 21-page paper prepared by the Department of Justice, the Solicitor-General and Industry Canada calls for Internet service providers to allow, "at a minimum," what they call intercept capability when offering new services or upgraded service. It also proposes establishing a national database of Internet users.

The document, posted on-line at the Department of Justice site, calls for input from the public as well as legal and and industry representatives before legislation is drafted, likely by the end of this year or early in 2003. But one industry observer is already worried by what it says and by what it doesn't say. Another is concerned that the possibility of added expenses to upgrade systems could drive some small operators out of business.

"These proposals are so open-ended that it scares me they would be the basis for a law," Bob Carrick, CEO of the directory, said in a recent interview.

"It's hard to tell exactly what they want to do," said Mr. Carrick, who fears that providers would be forced to keep records of all on-line use in the event they may be called upon to provide that information for police.

The government insists that any legislation stemming from the proposals will be written with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in mind.

"We're not talking about regulating everyone's use, only those who pose a threat to Canadian safety," Amy Jarrette, spokeswoman for the Solicitor-General, said. "Whatever process is in place now, the same safeguards will continue."

Lucie Angers, a lawyer with the Justice Department, said the public should not fear excessive scrutiny. Police will have to get a court order before going for information, she said.

But Mr. Carrick warned that language in the document is so vague that it could be used to justify unprecedented intrusion into personal privacy.

"The one line that worries me, 'A preservation order ... requires service providers ... to store and save existing data.' Does that mean data that they've already been tracking? It's the words 'existing data' that really and truly bother me."

Police already have the legal power and the technical ability to listen in on phone calls. But tapping electronic communication is not as easy as monitoring a phone line, and a telephone wire-tap can only take effect once a court order has been issued. Many Internet service providers are unable to monitor their users' communications and some have built elaborate security features as a way of reassuring customers that their messages will remain confidential.

The paper posted on-line at Government of Canada To Review Lawful Access Laws does not specify what system upgrades ISPs will need to perform to meet the new standards, or who will pay for them.

Jay Thomson, president of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, said in an interview that at least some ISPs will have to modify their systems significantly to meet these new requirements.

"But it's a big black hole," he said from Ottawa. "We don't know who will have to do what, or how much it will cost."

A spokeswoman in Industry Minister Allan Rock's office could not estimate how many ISPs will have to reconfigure their systems or how much it will cost. Public-relations officials at the Solicitor-General's office and the Department of Justice were also in the dark on the matter.

Mr. Thomson said that passing these costs on to the ISPs, many of which are extremely small operations, could drive some of them out of business. He added that his group will also raise serious concerns about privacy and security issues when it submits its response to the document.

A spokeswoman for Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski refused to comment except to say that Mr. Radwanski had received the paper and is reviewing it. "We're studying it, analyzing it and we'll no doubt be making submissions," she said.

The government has justified its proposals by saying that Canada has to adapt the Criminal Code before it can ratify the Convention on Cyber-Crime, which Ottawa signed last November as a non-voting observer to the Council of Europe. The paper points to the difference between Canada and "several" other countries, which have already updated legislation to give security authorities "lawful access capabilities."

The paper argues that action is needed to prevent law enforcement from falling behind in what it bills as a continuing fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, money-laundering and fraudulent telemarketing.

"The laws were made 30 years ago," Ms. Jarrette of the Solicitor-General's office pointed out. "They needed to be updated, but we are very much aware of the need to respect privacy issues."

The government will hear from industry stakeholders, law-enforcement agencies, civil-liberties and privacy groups and the legal community. Comment is also invited via e-mail to

Read in here:
Free Thinker
Once again, its just less and less freedoms for Canadians. Sure, we have a crime problem.. But this is way over that line.
I can see it now, all the RCMP looking at porn sites from passwords obtained by spying on users.. lol
shh big brother is watching.... your porn sites!

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