Warrantless online wiretapping not planned, Conservatives say

The Conservative government says it has no plans to allow police to intercept private Internet communications without a warrant.

The Conservative government says it has no plans to allow police to intercept private Internet communications without a warrant.

"Outrageous claims like that one, that private communications will be intercepted without a warrant, is a complete fabrication," said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews Wednesday, responding to a question from NDP MP Charmaine Borg, who represents the Quebec riding of Terrebonne-Blainville.

A controversial provision allowing warrantless interception of communications had been included in a set of three bills introduced by the Conservatives during the last session of Parliament. The bills were aimed at giving police new powers and tools to investigate crimes on the Internet.

The Conservatives had promised before the May 2 that the new investigative powers and tools would be included in an omnibus crime bill within its first 100 sitting days in office.

However, they were not included in the omnibus crime bill introduced Tuesday, prompting Borg's question about whether the government will listen to those opposed to warrantless surveillance.

Following up on Toews's answer, NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who represents the Quebec riding of Sherbrooke, asked for a clarification on whether the warrantless wiretapping provision was gone for good.

Toews responded, "I don't understand where the member is getting his information from. This type of outrageous claim that lawful access would not be appropriately enacted by our government is simply that – outrageous. The legislation will come, it will provide for appropriate judicial oversight in respect of access to private conversation."

In their election platform, the Conservatives had promised to reintroduce legislation that would "give law enforcement and national security agencies up-to-date tools to fight crime in today's high-tech telecommunications environment."

The bills from the last session, the 40th Parliament, included:

  • C-50, access to investigative tools for serious crimes act, which would give police the power to intercept private communications without a warrant under certain circumstances.
  • C-51, investigative powers for the 21st century act, which would allow police to get warrants to obtain information transmitted over the internet and data related to its transmission, including locations of individuals and transactions; and orders that would compel other parties to preserve electronic evidence.
  • C-52, investigating and preventing criminal electronic communications act, which would require internet service providers to have infrastructure that will allow law enforcement agents to intercept internet communications of their customers; and provide basic information about their subscribers to law enforcement.

The government and law enforcement officials say the laws are necessary because technology provides new ways of committing crimes and makes them harder to investigate. The Conservative government has previously tried to introduce similar legislation multiple times.

Their absence in Tuesday's omnibus bill came as a surprise to many.

Government 'committed' to reintroducing provisions

When asked about the lawful access provisions Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department told CBC News in an email that the government is "committed to reintroducing" the measures and "further details will be announced in due course."

Earlier Wednesday, Charlie Angus, privacy and digital affairs critic for the NDP, said the fact that the internet surveillance provisions weren't included in the omnibus bill suggests "the Conservatives have been rattled by the growing backlash" and were worried that would have drowned out the message they wanted to send about cracking down on sex offenders and young offenders.

Angus said his party's main problem with the internet surveillance proposals is the provision that gives police the power to spy on Canadians over the internet without a warrant. He added that he would support the legislation if it is modified to require warrants for surveillance, as he acknowledges that police need updated tools.

"If they won't make that commitment," he said, "then there's going to be another major fight on the go."

Earlier in September, both the NDP and Green Party issued news releases outlining their parties' opposition to the proposals.

Other critics of the provisions suggested that fact they were not included in this week's omnibus bill could allow for more scrutiny.

"Excluding them from the crime bill will provide more time for review and committee hearings," wrote Michael Geist, an internet law researcher at the University of Ottawa, in his blog Tuesday afternoon.

Steve Anderson, executive director of Open Media, a group that has been lobbying hard against the provisions, said he believes the delay means they "will receive proper scrutiny in the House of Commons."