Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the government would not introduce legislation forcing internet service providers to give customer information without a warrant.
"We have not and we will not be proposing legislation to grant police the power to get information from internet companies without a warrant. That's never been a proposal," Day told the Ottawa Citizen late Thursday.
"It may make some investigations more difficult, but our expectation is rights to our privacy are such that we do not plan, nor will we have in place, something that would allow the police to get that information."
Day's announcement comes after CBCNews.ca and other news organizations obtained copies of a consultation document from Public Safety Canada and Industry Canada that was looking into ways law enforcement and national security agencies could gain lawful access to personal information from ISPs.
Personal information would include names, addresses, land and cellphone numbers, as well as additional mobile phone identification, such as a device serial number and a subscriber identity module (SIM) card number.
The consultation, which was distributed to only a limited number of stakeholders, called for submissions by Sept. 25.
Privacy advocates, however, expressed displeasure over both the content and the process of the consultation.
In response to the outcry, Public Safety Canada extended the deadline for submissions to Oct. 12 and posted the consultation document on its website.
Day told the Citizen that the original document sent to a select group of stakeholders "never would have gone out if I had seen it" and that it "somehow went out without my approval."
Mélisa Leclerc, a spokeswoman for Day, told CBC News that the minister's objections with the document weren't with its contents, but rather its wording, and that had he had a chance to look at it they might have included language making clear that searches without warrants would not be pursued.
"The wording led some to believe the consultation was biased and so we wanted to be clear that we are looking at all possible approaches," Leclerc said.
The document Public Safety Canada posted on Thursday is virtually identical in language to the original document leaked to the media, save for the change in submission deadline date. Leclerc said the document was left untouched to avoid confusion among those stakeholders who had already received one.
Investigators having difficulties
The document says that under current processes, enforcement agencies have been experiencing difficulties in gaining the information from telecommunications service providers, with some demanding a court-issued warrant before turning over the data.
"If the custodian of the information is not co-operative when a request for such information is made, law enforcement agencies may have no means to compel the production of information pertaining to the customer," the document says.
"This poses a problem in some contexts."
It says enforcement agencies may need the information for matters other than probes, such as informing next-of-kin about emergency situations, or because they are at the early stages of an investigation.
"The availability of such building-block information is often the difference between the start and finish of an investigation," according to the document.
Leclerc said the purpose of the consultation is to deal with this issue without allowing for access to personal information without a warrant.
"We are trying to improve the process and achieve a balance between public safety and respect for privacy," she said. "We're looking for how to do this, and if there are other ways we want to hear what they are."
Writing in his legal blog, Michael Geist, chair of internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, said Day's statement was "welcome news and represents a remarkable change from earlier this week."
Some security experts, however, remain in favour of giving enforcement officials more flexibility in accessing personal information.
Michael Murphy, Canadian vice-president and general manager of Symantec, said the time necessary to obtain a warrant often comes into conflict with the nature of internet crime, which can happen and spread quickly.
"It might work in the gumshoe days, but things are different now," said Murphy, who is consulting the government on the issue.