Law enforcement officials around the country are misusing taxpayers’ money lobbying for “lawful access” laws that would give them warrantless access to private online information, a digital rights group says.
OpenMedia.ca, which is running the Stop Spying campaign against the government’s proposed expansion of police powers on the Internet, released the contents of a letter Wednesday the group said was sent from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to officers around the country.
The letter urges law enforcement officials to send in examples of situations where expanded police powers would have aided in an investigation, noting that a previous effort two years ago “lacked a sufficient quantity” of good examples.
“It is imperative that we gather examples that can support the need for this legislation in the eyes of government, privacy groups, media, police and especially the public,” the letter states in part. “The seriousness of this cannot be understated. We are therefore seeking your support in gathering this information by instructing your members on the vital importance of providing the information to help bring these Bills into law.”
UPDATE: Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police spokesman Tim Smith has confirmed to Huffington Post that the letter was genuine, "and we do not have any issue that it is out there."
"Lawful access represents an important tool to assist policing in combatting serious criminal activity (organized crime, sexual predators, identity theft, etc)," Smith said in an emailed statement. "It is not, as some would like us to believe, being used to target the 'surfing habits' of Canadians."
The CACP's full statement is included below.
The letter, which OpenMedia Executive Director Steve Anderson said was obtained from a “concerned individual” who is not a police officer, states that a research section of the Vancouver Police Department has been asked to compile the examples.
That doesn’t sit well with Anderson, who sees law enforcement’s lobbying for the bill as a misuse of taxpayers’ money.
“They’re asking police officers to basically do research for a PR report that backs up their lobbying,” Anderson told The Huffington Post. “Obviously if the police are spending time doing research for lobbying then they’re not doing what they’re paid to do.”
Anderson suggested the letter was a sign law enforcement officials are asking for powers they don’t need.
“I think the police know that that’s a weakness in the legislation and that’s why they’re trying to dig up any stories they can to show that they need it,” he said. “It’s a solution in search of a problem.”
The Conservative government has said it plans to reintroduce “lawful access” legislation, but it’s unclear what form the new bill or bills will take.
Under bills C-50, C-51 and C-52, the versions of "lawful access" that the Conservatives unsuccessfully tabled in the last Parliament, police would be able to collect emails, phone numbers, addresses and other information about Internet users without a warrant.
Moreover, Internet service providers would be required to retrofit their networks so that law enforcement agencies could monitor Internet activities in real time. And Internet providers could be asked to retain web data on a particular customer.
Critics, including Canada's privacy commissioner, have described the proposed “lawful access” legislation as a threat to civil liberties.
A poll carried out for the privacy commissioner last year found eight in 10 Canadians oppose giving police the ability to collect Internet usage data without a warrant.
This is the full text of the letter as it was provided to The Huffington Post by OpenMedia.ca.
Important Request to all Police Services regarding up-coming Lawful Access Legislation
As you know, the Government of Canada will likely be introducing lawful access bills early in 2012.
The Law Amendments Committee (LAC) and the Lawfully Authorized Electronic Surveillance (LAES) sub/committee have held the lead for the CACP over the past 12 years as we urged successive governments to enact this type of legislation. There is much support across parliament for these Bills however, there are some significant critics of the Bills and the LAC and LAES are busy advocating on your behalf to both inform the public and answer criticism.
One criticism directed from civil liberties and privacy advocates is that the burden by the police to demonstrate the need this legislation has not been met. While we are confident we have made our case to government, it remains important that we make our case to Canadians as a whole. This is especially important in the area of access to subscriber information or what is commonly referred to as "Customer Name and Address" (CNA). The Bill will contain a provision which permits certain designated police officers to compel Internet Service Providers and Telecommunications Service Providers to produce this type of information upon demand and without a warrant. There is also an audit requirement in place with regard to reporting back to government when such requests for information are made. Although the present state of the law is that such information does not require a warrant and can be provided to police voluntarily, the experience by your investigators is that compliance with requests is inconsistent and at times obstructionist.
This Bill is a key tool needed to rectify this problem but has attracted criticisms based primarily on misinformation. The CACP is working hard to counter this misinformation with key examples of the importance of timely and consistent access to CNA by the police. To that end, the LAC has asked the Planning, Research and Audit Section of the Vancouver Police Department to coordinate the collection of actual examples where access to CNA has either provided an effective and important aspect to an investigation or, in the alternative, where refusal by a company to provide the information has hindered an investigation or threatened public safety.
We are aware that a similar request was made approximately 2 years ago, but the report written at that time lacked a sufficient quantity of good examples. We recognize that some of these examples provide confidential operational information and your investigators are therefore reluctant to share the details. However, this type of information is key to countering ill-informed criticism. It is imperative that we gather examples that can support the need for this legislation in the eyes of government, privacy groups, media, police and especially the public. The seriousness of this cannot be understated. We are therefore seeking your support in gathering this information by instructing your members on the vital importance of providing the information to help bring these Bills into law. This, while also finding a way to protect operational information and at the same time allowing us to inform the public and other stakeholders.
We would respectfully ask that you direct the appropriate persons in your organization to assist on a priority basis by January 20, 2012. All that is required is written response, either in the form of an e-mail message or a document attached to an e-mail.
The contacts at the Planning, Research and Audit Section of the Vancouver Police Department to reply to are:
Strategic Planning and Policy Advisor
Planning, Research &Audit Section
Vancouver Police Department
[contact information redacted]
Deputy Chief Constable
Vancouver Police Department
This is the full text of the CACP's response to OpenMedia's publication of the letter.
One of the main principles of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) is to advance awareness of issues which promote the safety of the communities to which law enforcement serves. We do so purely from a public safety position. Lawful access represents an important tool to assist policing in combatting serious criminal activity (organized crime, sexual predators, identity theft, etc). It is not, as some would like us to believe, being used to target the 'surfing habits' of Canadians. It is based on highly controlled usage to respond to criminal activities which today operate in a safe-haven of anonymity.
In preparation for the re-introduction of legislation, which we believe is forthcoming, the CACP has issued a request to its membership to provide examples that support the need for this important legislation. As our request states "this issue has attracted criticisms based primarily on misinformation" and that "it is imperative that we gather examples that can support the need for this legislation in the eyes of government, privacy groups, media, police and especially the public." This request of our law enforcement members is in keeping with ensuring the integrity of the information we put forward.
Canada's obsolete legislative scheme was implemented during the days of the rotary dial telephone. Modernization of current legislative provisions is urgently required to reflect significant and obvious advancements in communications technologies. Without modernization, the current legislation challenges police investigative techniques and compromises public safety. Urgent amendments are required to allow the police to lawfully and effectively investigate serious offences.
It should be noted that law enforcement recognizes that there needs to be a balance between privacy and the need to provide tools necessary to deal with new and emerging crime trends associated with modern technology. To suggest, however, that police want to engage in 'spying of people's on-line activities' or monitor Canadians surfing habits with no judicial authority is simply incorrect, both in the intention of the police and in the facts of the proposed legislation.
The CACP will be making its position clear to Canadians as the proposed legislation is introduced.
Timothy M. Smith
Government Relations and Communications
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
Canada is not the only Western country working on expanding its control of the Internet. Here are some of the world’s more noteworthy attempts to tame the web: