Monday, August 23, 2004

Police Want to Snoop on E-Mails, the Internet

Police to seek greater powers to snoop
From Monday's Globe and Mail
POSTED AT 1:05 AM EDT Monday, Aug 23, 2004

Police chiefs will push for greater access to Canadians' e-mail, Internet activity, and other electronic records during a conference in Vancouver this week, lobbying the federal government for legal amendments and funding to allow for more snooping.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police will issue a public statement on so-called "lawful access" measures on Wednesday, association president Edgar MacLeod said.

He also plans to speak with Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan after the conference to press the association's argument that wiretap laws are outdated and police need better tools for intercepting Internet traffic.

"There are some serious consequences for Canadians, quite frankly, if we don't get these changes," Mr. MacLeod said in a telephone interview yesterday. "You'd see an increase in organized crime, as these people continue to operate with impunity."

Police organizations have been saying for years that Criminal Code provisions for wiretaps, written in 1974, need amendments that would allow officers to monitor e-mail, Web surfing, instant messaging, mobile telephones, and telephone services that use Internet connections.

Now the federal government seems poised to act on those concerns, Mr. MacLeod said. In a speech to the Canadian Association of Police Boards last week, Ms. McLellan described the issue as "something my department is actively working on."

But privacy advocates say extending wiretap laws into cyberspace gives police too much power.

"It's very worrisome," said Jason Young, a director of Privaterra, a non-profit group that specializes in privacy and security technology. "These powers are much, much broader than before."

Under current laws, police can get permission from a judge and demand specific information from Internet providers, such as a log of every website a particular person visited during a limited period of time.

Such intercepts are usually reserved for more serious investigations, involving issues such as child pornography and organized crime.

But not every company has the technology for such surveillance, and others say they can't help investigators unless they pay thousands of dollars in service fees.

Internet companies should be required by law to build systems that can be opened for investigators, Mr. MacLeod said.

An increasing number of terrorists and criminals are using advanced technology to thwart police monitoring, he added.

"Quite frankly, we have not kept pace," Mr. MacLeod said. "We're not looking for more power, just for keeping up with the technology."

But the police have been pushing for permission to use those powers in more circumstances, Mr. Young said. The nature of the Internet also amplifies the police wiretap powers, he added, because of the enormous databases of personal information that have accumulated in, for instance, e-mail accounts.

"The police are very fond of saying that technology has made their jobs more difficult, but it's also made it easier," he said.

Nightmare scenarios have been built on the spectre of government databases tracking all citizens, Mr. Young said, but the reality of police having power to tap into private databases could be equally frightening. "There's no functional difference between Orwell's vision in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and all these little, privately run databases with state access," Mr. Young said.

Clayton Pecknold, a deputy chief constable with the Central Saanich Police Service in B.C., and a member of the police committee reviewing the law, said officers are only looking for the same power they used with older technology.

"This is not the police snooping on people's Internet or telephone in absence of a court order," he said. ". . .We believe that privacy is protected by requiring police to get judicial authorization and warrants before they perform interception, as is the law right now."