A bill that would give police and intelligence agencies new powers to access Canadians' electronic communications and get telecommunications subscriber data without a warrant is needed to protect against child pornography, says Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

"I believe that unless this legislation is adopted, this will in fact allow child pornographers and organized crime to flourish," Toews said at a news conference Tuesday after the proposed "protecting children from internet predators act" was introduced in the House of Commons.

"The focus here is the protection of children."

The bill includes no mention of children or predators except in the title, which appears to have been changed after it was sent to the printers.

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The 'protecting children from internet predators act' was introduced Tuesday by Stephen Harper's Conservative government. (CBC)

Like similar legislation introduced in the past by both Conservative and Liberal governments, the new bill includes provisions that would:

  • Require telecommunications and internet providers to give subscriber data to police, national security agencies and the Competition Bureau without a warrant, including names, phone numbers and IP addresses.
  • Force internet providers and other makers of technology to provide a "back door" to make communications accessible to police.
  • Allow police to get warrants to obtain information transmitted over the internet and data related to its transmission, including locations of individuals and transactions.
  • Allow courts to compel other parties to preserve electronic evidence.

However, unlike the most recent previous version of the bill, the new legislation:

  • Requires telecommunications providers to disclose, without a warrant, just six types of identifiers from subscriber data instead of 11.
  • Provides for an internal audit of warrantless requests that will go to a government minister and oversight review body.
  • Includes a provision for a review after five years.
  • Allows telecommunications service providers to take 18 months instead of 12 months to buy equipment that would allow police to intercept communications.
  • Changes the definition of hate propaganda to include communication targeting sex, age and gender.

Privacy protection

In a news release, Public Safety Canada said the bill would help to protect the security and privacy of Canadians by limiting the number of police and security officials who can request subscriber data and applying new requirements for recording, reporting, and auditing those requests.

Available without a warrant

Under the new bill, the six identifiers of telecommunications subscribers that police, intelligence and Competition Bureau officials can obtain without a warrant from their telecommunications service provider are:

  1. Name.
  2. Address.
  3. Telephone number.
  4. Email address.
  5. Internet protocol (IP) address.
  6. Local service provider identifier.

Toews said he believes some of the concerns expressed by critics of the previous legislation have been addressed.

Critics had previously raised concerns that certain identifiers could be used to track individuals on the internet. However, Murray Stooke, deputy chief of the Calgary Police Service, told journalists at the news conference that an IP address alone, without a warrant to obtain additional information, could not be used for that purpose.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the bill "strikes the balance between investigative powers used to protect public safety and necessity to safeguard privacy."

"The technology available today makes various crimes such as distributing child porn easier to commit and harder to investigate," Nicholson said at the news conference. "We have to make sure law enforcement have the tools necessary to fight crime in the 21st century."

He added that the proposed legislation would allow Canada to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and boost co-operation on international investigations.

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Charlie Angus, digital affairs critic for the NDP and MP for the Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay, said his party is "against this bill" and will "fight this bill all the way."

"What's very disturbing in this bill is it's going to force cellphone providers, the telecom providers, to build in the spy mechanisms so that police and security can track you any time they want," he said at a news conference following the bill's introduction but prior to the government news conference.

No need demonstrated: NDP

He added that the government has not demonstrated any need for the proposed new powers, including the ability to get subscriber information without a warrant.

However, Toews argued Tuesday that the six subscriber identifiers that would be obtainable without a warrant under the new bill would be needed in order to apply for a warrant in the first place.

Telecommunications providers can already provide subscriber data to police voluntarily upon request.

But Toews said that's not good enough.

"This no longer can be discretionary on the part of TSPs [telecommunications service providers], especially when children's lives are at stake," he said.

Angus slammed Toews for comments he made previously suggesting that critics of the bill "can stand with the child pornographers."

"Is Vic Toews saying every privacy commissioner in this country who has raised concerns about this government's attempt to erase the basic obligation to get a judicial warrant — is he saying they're for child pornography?"

Open Media, a Vancouver-based group that lobbies for an open internet, said the bill is "opening the door to needless invasions of privacy for law-abiding Canadians." Open Media led a petition against the anticipated bill that has been signed by 80,000 people.

The introduction of the bill "clearly does not represent the will of Canadians," said the group's executive director, Steve Anderson, in a statement. He urged Canadians to talk to their MPs.

Lindsay Pinto, a spokeswoman for the group, said any difference between this bill and the previous version of the legislation to address critics' concerns are "small" and are "not going to be enough to appease Canadians."

The RCMP issued a statement Tuesday supporting the bill.

"While it is not the RCMP’s role to comment on pending legislation, the organization believes police need modern tools and resources to respond to the evolving nature of national and transnational crime, including terrorism," the statement said.

It added that the national police force welcomes amendments to the Criminal Code that provide "more effective tools to investigate criminal acts in the digital age," and such changes would bring Canada in line with similar laws in the U.K., U.S., Australia, Germany and Sweden.

In particular, it said, Canada is the only country in the G8, aside from Japan, that does not require telecommunications providers to provide a back door for law enforcement to intercept digital communications.