Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Rules for Web Surveillance under Bill C-51

The Conservative government has introduced a law that will increase police power in monitoring Internet-surfing of Canadians.  Bill C-51, titled “an Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and others Acts”, would require Internet Service providers (ISPs) to install and use equipment allowing the police easier access in monitoring and viewing stored Internet-surfing history of their clients.  Under Bill C-51 the police would have the power to have ISPs collect and preserve Internet surfing data for anyone suspected to be engaged in criminal activity without requiring a warrant.

Bill C-51 will also allow police to more easily activate cellphone tracking mechanisms to track the whereabouts of suspected criminals.  While cellphone tracking of suspected terrorists can currently be performed for up to 60 days, the new law would allow police to track suspected terrorists for up to one year. 

Public Safety Spokesperson Julie Carmichael claims that the new measures are aimed to bring our laws into the 21st century, and will provide police with the tools needed to do their job.   She wrote: “Rather than making things easier for child pornographers and organized criminals, we call on all Canadians to support these balanced measures”.  She stated Bill C-51 follows policies adopted by Sweden, the United States, Australia and Germany, and claimed the Bill “strikes an appropriate balance between the investigative powers used to protect public safety and the necessity to safeguard the privacy of Canadians”.

Many advocates of Internet-privacy - including the privacy Commissioner of Canada, have expressed fear over the Bill’s impact on civil liberties, and have warned the government not to adopt the bill on the grounds that it would lead to serious infringements of civil liberties.  Opponents of the Bill have claimed that the new laws would allow police to obtain personal information on suspects at any time without first obtaining a warrant, while the current law allows police to bypass warrants only in emergency situations.  

In response to the proposed Bill, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) claimed the law will be difficult to justify, stating they “could not find a sufficient quantity of credible examples” for an older version of the legislation. 

In defence of Bill C-51, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews stated that opponents of the Bill were “putting the rights of the child pornographers and organized crime ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens”.  In response to Toews’, federal Privacy Commissioner said in a recent letter to Toews that she sees no valid arguments to justify legislating these new surveillance powers over the Internet.   In 2009, then Public Safety Minister Pete Van Loan cited kidnapping where police had to wait 36 hours to obtain a warrant as evidence of the need for Bill C-51.  However in rebuttal, digital policy expert Michael Geist revealed that the incident did not involve any requests to ISPs by police for customer data.  

Posted by Ben Dillon (Windsor Law I)

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