Public Safety Committee Thwarts Canadian Police Chiefs’ Hunger For Lawful Access Powers

By: Obert Madondo |  | Published May 16, 2017, by The Canadian Progressive

Photo credit: Yuri Samoilov / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security recently thwarted Canadian policing agencies’ insatiable hunger for lawful access and related surveillance powers.

Last year, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution calling for a new law that would grant law enforcement and spying agencies easy access to our digital and online lives. That’s in addition to the unprecedented powers already granted through Bill C-51, also known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015.

A national security “green paper” issued by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale a few weeks after the police chiefs’ call contained a chapter on lawful access, entitled, “Investigative Capabilities in a Digital World”. According to the Toronto Star, the chapter made “arguments for easing constraints on police, saying many foreign jurisdictions are ahead of Canada in allowing lawful access to digital communications, in many cases without prior judicial authorization.”

Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association said the government’s green paper read “like it was drafted by a public relations firm tasked with selling the current state of extraordinary, unaccountable powers and if anything, laying the groundwork for extending those even further.”

David Christopher of the Internet rights group OpenMedia said the paper’s language focused on the “concerns of police rather than the needs of Canadians.”

In September, Goodale and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould announced the much-anticipated public consultations on Bill C-51 and other national security issues. Presenting its much anticipated report (pdf) to Parliament earlier this month, the Public Safety Committee recommended that the current lawful access requirements stay intact.

The Committee’s recommendation #39 states:

That at this time, and following the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Spencer, no changes to the lawful access regime for subscriber information and encrypted information be made, but that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security continue to study such rapidly evolving technological issues related to cyber security.

For now, our elected officials aren’t convinced that policing and spying agencies urgently need warrantless access to our digital and online lives.

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