Ars Technica reported on a developing story out of Canada this week that should worry many Internet privacy advocates. The country’s conservative party, which took over control of their parliament this spring, seeks to broadly expand the government’s power. The party is trying to pass a massive omnibus bill with a host of features that would make it fairly difficult to defeat. One of the most troubling aspects of the bill is the part that would include a provision giving law enforcement agencies the power to demand access to telecommunications data without a warrant. Specifically, they would be entitled to:
- “any information in the service provider’s possession or control respecting the name, address, telephone number, and electronic mail address of any subscriber to any of the service provider’s telecommunications services and the Internet protocol address, mobile identification number, electronic serial number, local service provider identifier, international mobile equipment identity number, international mobile subscriber identity number and subscriber identity module card [SIM card] number that are associated with the subscriber’s service and equipment.
Thinking of the Mounties in front of a bank of computer monitors is actually a lot more worrisome than amusing. One reason for that is the proposed law would also prevent the telecoms that supplied the user information from acknowledging what they disclosed to the the authorities. It’s not quite clear why the current system of requiring warrants isn’t enough, or why they need this nearly unfettered access to what people are doing online or with their cellular phone.
Although Canadian laws aren’t exactly the same as in the US, there is a lot to be worried about on this side of the border. First, it sets a bad overall precedent. Our courts aren’t typically willing to use other countries’ decisions on their face, but if there’s a world-wide trend toward granting more power to law enforcement, you can bet that there will be more pressure to change that. It took years to undo some of the damage done to civil liberties in the US following 9/11 and the USA PATRIOT Act. Remember when the Bush administration used warrantless wire-taps to spy on American citizens in violation of numerous laws and that pesky 4th Amendment? Well, they are basically doing the same thing in Canada, but without even a national emergency as an excuse. There’s not much we can do about it, but watch and wait.