Wednesday, June 21, 2006

RCMP Wiretap Access Bill to Be Revived

The Conservative government will revive plans to require telecommunications companies to build in increased access for Internet and telephone wiretaps, with a bill that probably will be tabled in the fall.

A Liberal bill requiring the new built-in surveillance capacity, as well as forcing service providers to keep more client records that could be obtained by police, died when former prime minister Paul Martin's minority government fell last November.

But Melissa Leclerc, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, confirmed yesterday that the government is reviewing that bill, and plans to revive it in some form. The initiative would require service providers build in "access points" so that authorities can immediately monitor telephone calls, e-mail, and Web surfing.

"We're discussing it now, but we don't have any time frame," she said. "We don't know exactly when we will reintroduce it."

Although there are new rumours in the telecommunications industry that some form of the Liberal bill, titled the modernizing investigative techniques act, could be revived as soon as this spring, that appears unlikely with only two weeks left in this sitting of the Commons.

A senior RCMP official said they are expecting the bill to be tabled in the fall session of the Commons.

Police have credited Internet surveillance with playing a key role in last week's arrests of 17 terror suspects who are alleged to have plotted attacks in Toronto and Ottawa.

Police and intelligence officials have insisted that their technological capabilities have not kept pace with new technologies used by terrorists and organized crime, and have asked for the law to require telephone and Internet networks to build in quick and easy access for wiretaps and surveillance.

The proposal has raised concerns from civil libertarians, who warn that the increased surveillance capacity could be abused, and from telephone and Internet companies that fear they will be forced to bear a heavy cost for making their networks wiretap-accessible, and keeping staff ready to feed communications to police.

The Liberal bill called for service providers to build in a number of "access points" based on the size of their networks. It set a cap of one access point per 5,000 subscribers -- which would allow authorities to simultaneously monitor the communications of 8,000 people around the clock.

E-mails and Web surfing usually cannot be monitored by physically tapping into a wire, and new telephone technologies such as voice-over-Internet can make tapping calls more difficult, meaning access at the service providers' facilities is sometimes the only way to conduct surveillance.

Some civil libertarians and opposition politicians argued that such measures would provide too much access for police to snoop into the lives of ordinary Canadians without a warrant.

But some police and security officials argued it is simply identifying information that is analogous to the modern-day equivalent of a phone book -- and it can be crucial for time-sensitive investigations such as tracking a pedophile.

TheGlobeAndMail

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