Canada unveils latest lawful Internet access law

Canadian police can access Internet subscriber information without a warrant

The Canadian government has introduced its long-awaited legislation giving police new powers to get Internet and wireless subscriber information without a warrant and requiring telecommunications providers to have equipment for intercepting communications.

The latest of several version, this is expected to pass because the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a majority in Parliament. Still, it faces opposition from privacy rights advocates as well as worries from service providers over who will pay for equipment upgrades needed to comply with the law.

Bill C-30 requires wired and wireless telecom service providers

--to maintain systems so police can intercept communications with a warrant,

--and to provide basic subscriber information to designated police, Canada's spy agency (CSIS) and federal Competition Bureau officials upon request without a warrant. Subscriber information includes subscriber name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, the Internet protocol address, and the name of the service provider. That's a significant change: The earlier version of the legislation would have required wireless carriers to also hand over a subscriber's international mobile equipment ID number, mobile subscriber ID number and subscriber identity module (SIN) card number.

Police already can intercept phone conversations with a warrant. "Rapid changes in technology mean crimes and national security threats are more difficult to investigate," Public Safety Minister Vic Towes said in announcing the legislation. "As a result, criminals, gangs and terrorists have found ways to exploit technological innovations to hide their illegal activities. This legislation would give law enforcement and CSIS the investigative tools they need to do their jobs and keep our communities safe."

However, civil and privacy rights activists say there is no need for police agencies to get Internet or wireless subscriber information without a warrant.

Missing from the announcement are the vital regulations that the government proclaims when legislation is finally passed which cover the implementation of laws. Service providers are hoping the regulations spell out if and how their cost of adding equipment to comply with the law will be covered by the government, and, just as important, whether the interception equipment they'll have to buy will be easily available and affordable.

Few service providers want to talk on the record about the law, but Bell Canada, one of the biggest phone, Internet and wireless carriers, issued this statement:

"While we'll obviously have to study the proposed legislation, our primary concern in this area has always been the capacity of industry to implement any new requirements and who bears the cost. Bell has a long history of working effectively with law enforcement agencies as required under existing legislation. However, it is important that there be a clear justification for any changes to the lawful access framework and that the privacy rights of all Canadians are taken into consideration."

One area of concern for wireless carriers was additional information outlined in the earlier version of the law that only cellphone companies would have had to hand over to police, said Keith McIntosh, senior director of policy and regulatory affairs for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), which represents most of the wireless carriers in the country.

"Those extra wireless pieces have been removed" in C-30, he said. The CTWA had lobbied to ensure "competitive neutrality" between what the law requires of wired and wireless carriers, he said. But the regulations, he stressed, will be vital to wireless carriers.

"A great deal of cost and complexity can be either come as a result of what's included in the regs, or what is not required." The interception equipment carriers will need should be "off the shelf" gear that meets international standards, and not a "made-in-Canada technical solution" -- which could be more expensive -- McIntosh said. Compensation should not only cover capital expenses but also cover reasonable operational costs, he said.

The association want to see the regulations and have a chance to comment on them before they are proclaimed, he added. Like all pieces of legislation, C-30 will go to a committee for hearings, where opposition parties are expected to loudly object to police getting access to subscriber information without a warrant.

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