02/20/2012 04:06 EST | Updated 04/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Online Surveillance Bill Backed By Police Chiefs

Canada's top cops defended the federal government's proposed law that would help investigators track people's online communications, at a news conference in Vancouver Monday.

Both the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association say they endorse Bill C-30, a controversial online surveillance bill.

Section 17 of the bill outlines the "exceptional circumstances" under which "any police officer" can request an internet service provider (ISP) to turn over customer information without a warrant.

"We believe the new legislation will assist police with the necessary tools to investigate crimes while balancing, if not strengthening, the privacy rights for Canadians through the addition of oversight not currently in place," said Vancouver police Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke.

"We also need the privacy safeguards to ensure we’re accountable in the use of these tools, and we believe Bill C-30 provides just that."

Lemcke said the law would only give police access to subscriber information, and investigators would still need warrants to actually monitor internet communications.

"The global internet, cellular phones and social media have been widely adopted and enjoyed by Canadians, young and old. …These new technologies are also being used as a safe haven for criminal activity — identity theft, child and sexual exploitation, gangs, organized crime and national security threats," he said.

"This is a huge challenge facing law enforcement agencies. We collectively need every reasonable tool to prevent such activity from happening in the first place, and to investigate and lay charges when it does."

Lemcke said the current legislation regarding lawful access was drafted in 1975, long before the existence of the internet and social media.

'An effective piece of legislation'

Tom Stamatakis, head of the Vancouver police union and president of the Canadian Police Association, said getting basic internet subscriber data would be like checking a phone book for somebody's phone number.

"We're talking about serious criminal misconduct, serious criminal offences — murders, organized crime, those kinds of offences. Even if the police wanted, in some pervasive way, to monitor phones, ISPs, whatever — we don't have the capacity," he said.

"This is legislation that's designed to give police the tools to better deal with serious organized crime … this is an effective piece of legislation that will allow the police to more quickly respond to those kinds of serious criminal activities. That's what the focus is … that's why we support this legislation."

The bill has garnered fervent opposition, including a social media protest aimed at Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the sponsor of the bill.

Toews came under fire once again over the weekend for comments he made to CBC Radio's The House host Evan Solomon indicating he was surprised by some of the bill's contents.

The Opposition New Democrats say the bill should be withdrawn and scrapped.

Toews has sent the bill to committee for study before a second reading.

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