04/03/2012 01:47 EDT | Updated 06/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Committee sheds little light on videos that take aim at public safety minister

OTTAWA - The RCMP says its investigation into online video threats against the public safety minister is continuing, but the national police force has no details to share.

The Mounties take all threats to ministers seriously, said James Malizia, the RCMP's assistant commissioner for protective policing.

But he revealed little new information during his appearance at a House of Commons committee, given that the matter is under police investigation.

"I'm not in a position to comment on any ongoing investigations," Malizia told the standing committee on procedure and House affairs.

The committee is looking into videos that demanded Public Safety Minister Vic Toews resign over a federal bill that would give police and spies easier access to information about Internet users.

Toews angered many people by painting opponents of the bill as allies of child pornographers.

The videos, posted on YouTube under the banner of loosely knit collective Anonymous, threatened to reveal personal secrets about Toews if he did not abandon the legislation.

Anonymous made good on the threats, posting a series of sometimes rambling videos featuring a disguised female voice discussing alleged details of Toews' past.

Officials from the RCMP, Public Safety Canada and the government's electronic spy agency testified about threats lurking in cyberspace, yet all shied away from talking about Anonymous.

Malizia said the RCMP can zero in on the people behind Internet postings but stressed that each case is unique.

"There are instances where we have the ability to successfully track and identify, and — depending upon the complexity — there will be times when we are not."

Conservative MP Laurie Hawn suggested that shining a spotlight on the controversial videos might at least serve as a warning to those who would commit illegal acts in cyberspace.

"I don't think we have much of a chance of finding these guys," he said. "We may find one, but there's who knows how many others."

Malizia said he couldn't comment on the committee's work, but added that advances in technology have created an environment where individuals can hide under a digital cloak.

"Criminals exploit, of course, the faceless environment provided by the Internet to conduct serious criminal activity, and we intend to fully pursue those that do that."

Toni Moffa, deputy chief of information technology security at Communications Security Establishment Canada, said the agency watches for threats to government computer systems and tries to limit the damage they might cause.

The highly secretive agency has the twin role of spying on foreign communications of interest to Canada and protecting federal networks from attacks.

But Moffa deflected questions on efforts to track down the originator of the controversial online videos, saying that job falls to police.

"I'm aware there's an investigation ongoing. But it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that," she said.

"It's not an IT security breach that we would deal with."

Following a wave of criticism about the online surveillance bill, the government agreed in February to send it directly to committee with an eye to accepting amendments. However, the legislation is still awaiting study.

The committee hearing came a day after Toews was rushed to an Ottawa hospital with what aides said was a seasonal flu. His office said Tuesday that the minister was in fact treated for irregular heartbeat and has been released.