Police chiefs want more access to private e-mail, Internet communication
Greg Joyce
Canadian Press

August 23, 2004

Cape Breton Police Chief Edgar McLeod: 'What we're hearing consistently from our police agencies and investigators across the country, is that they are not able to intercept -- lawfully -- these communications.' (Global BC)
VANCOUVER (CP) -- Police want the federal government to revamp 30-year-old Criminal Code provisions and give them greater access to fight hi-tech crime carried out via e-mail, the Internet and other forms of electronic traffic.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has been after Ottawa for Criminal Code amendments for some time and on Monday, the association's president reinforced that call.
The shortcomings of outdated legislation "poses a significant threat to public safety," said Edgar McLeod, who is also chief of the Cape Breton Regional Police Service.
McLeod said police are losing the crime-fighting battle to legislation that was written in 1974 -- when the rotary-dial telephone was still in use.
"Since then the technology has advanced while the police ability to keep up has not kept pace," Edgar said during a break at the association's annual conference.
"We say it's time to stop talking and start acting immediately."
Police organizations want more power -- through lawful access with warrants -- to monitor e-mail, web surfing, instant messaging, mobile telephones and telephone services that use Internet connections.
The police are especially concerned about child pornography, exploitation of children, and organized crime.
The chiefs seem to have growing support from the federal government.
In a speech to the Canadian Association of Police Boards last week, Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan described the issue as "something my department is actively working on."
But a Toronto-based national group known as Privateer says the police and the federal government must make the case to the public that cyber crime is increasing and that changes to the laws are needed.
"Those laws can apply to the existing medium quite well," said Robert Guerra, managing director of Privateer, which describes itself as a coalition of computer professionals and human rights organizations.
"It doesn't mean that the old laws are bad," he said. "It means police and authorities have to go through just cause for them to prove to a judge that they can intercept communication.
"That is how it works now. Why do they need additional powers?"
Guerra agreed a new era of communications exists, but it's also true that the Charter of Rights came into force after the 1974 Criminal Code provisions.
"So any new rights on any new communications medium regarding powers we give police have to be balanced with rights we have under existing modes of communication," he said.
Peter Barnes, president and CEO of Toronto-based Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, said there are huge cost implications to the police demands.
"Our issue is that, whatever is the right approach, we have to recover the costs associated with that," he said, referring to time and labour that Internet providers and others would incur keeping such information and making it accessible to investigators.
"It's quite complex and can be quite costly," said Barnes. "We don't think our customers should subsidize this enterprise that's carried out by law enforcement."
McLeod and other chiefs made the point several times that they are looking at "lawful access," not more powers.
Supt. Thomas Grue of the Edmonton Police Service, said police were reluctant to discuss in detail the types of things they would like better access to for fear of alerting the criminals.
"There is some technology now that we can't intercept but we can't list them for public safety reasons," said Grue.
Some Internet providers, for instance, can now purge data at will because there are no regulations, said Grue.
How long they would keep the data and who would pay added costs for doing so is still being debated, he said.
The association says other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the Netherlands, have already adopted legislation aimed at modernizing their lawful access statutes.
 Canadian Press 2004