rob-nicholson

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announces legislation, designed to help law enforcement and national security agencies tackle internet crime, in Ottawa on Monday. ((CBC))

The federal Conservatives have reintroduced legislation that would allow police and intelligence officials to intercept online communications and get personal information from internet service providers (ISPs) about their subscribers without first obtaining a warrant.

"New and evolving technologies provide new ways of committing crimes, making them harder to investigate," said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, while announcing the legislation in Ottawa. "Criminals continue to find new ways to evade the law. Our Criminal Code and other federal legislation must be updated."

Together, the two bills will help target child sexual predators, distributors of pornography and identity thieves, added Dave MacKenzie, parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. The bills would also aim to disrupt those who would use the internet to plan terrorism.

The Investigative Power for the 21st Century Act would:

  • Allow police to identify all network nodes and jurisdictions involved in data transmission and trace the communications back to a suspect.
  • Force ISPs to keep data temporarily so that it isn't lost or deleted before law enforcement agencies return with a search warrant or production order to obtain it.
  • Make it illegal to possess a computer virus for the purpose of committing a criminal offence.
  • Enhance international co-operation to help Canadian authorities investigate alleged crime that goes beyond its borders.

Its partner, the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act, would:

  • Force ISPs to install interception systems in their networks, making it easier for law enforcement or national security agencies to intercept information.
  • Provide police with "timely access" to personal information about subscribers, including names, address and internet addresses, without the need for a warrant.

Concerns about civil liberty

The bills have the "strong and united support" of police chiefs across Canada, said Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who was also present at the announcement.

While "the overwhelming majority" of internet providers co-operate already with police, "at the current time they don't have legislative authority to co-operate with us," he said.

When asked to provide an example in which the legislation could be helpful, Blair pointed to cases of child pornography.

Often, those distributing such pornography shield their identities by sharing information through a variety of networks, Blair said, adding that the new legislation could help law enforcement agencies pierce through those shields more easily.

"The mandated disclosure of personal information" by ISPs is a major concern, said Michael Geist, a law professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.

"That type of approach is open to abuse, and I don't think it strikes the right balance," Geist told CBC News. "There is a significant price to be paid, and sadly, scant evidence that a) we've got a problem, and b) that this is going to do very much about it."

"If you were serious about dealing with cyber crime … it’s not new legislation that’s needed. It‘s the resources for law enforcement that’s needed."

Daniel Petit, Nicholson's parliamentary secretary, said the legislation "addresses Canadians' privacy concerns by including strict privacy safeguards." In the case of the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act, that includes stricter requirements for obtaining judicial authorization to obtain data relating to suspect's location, he said.

Numerous attempts

This is the fourth time this type of legislation has been introduced.

Nicholson introduced the same legislation on June 18, 2009. It died after Prime Minister Stephen Harper suspended Parliament in on Dec. 30, 2009 in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Similar bills were also launched previously by the Harper government, as well as by the Liberal Party under then prime minister Paul Martin. The legislation stalled on both occasions.

Nicholson acknowledged "it has been difficult" to get the legislation passed, but said he is buoyed by the new composition of the Senate, where Conservatives hold 52 of 105 seats.

"I'm confident we can move forward and get this bill passed," he said.