Canadian Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan appeared on the last episode of TVO's Search Engine to defend the Conservatives' new "lawful access" bill. If passed, the bill will force ISPs to install equipment to facilitate internet wiretapping and allow Canadian police access to customer name and address information from internet service providers without court oversight.
Reaction to the bill has been almost universally negative. The Ottawa Citizen called it "out of balance" in an editorial, while the Montreal Gazette called the increased powers "a tool police don't need". Even the law-and-order National Post suggested that the bill is a "bogus, ill-advised expansion of state power".
This new bill comes only two years after former Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day assured the public that police would require court approval to access subscriber name and address information:
"We have not and we will not be proposing legislation to grant police the power to get information from Internet companies without a warrant. That's never been a proposal," Mr. Day said. "It may make some investigations more difficult, but our expectation is rights to our privacy are such that we do not plan, nor will we have in place, something that would allow the police to get that information."
- Ottawa Citizen, September 14, 2007
However, in his Search Engine interview, Minister Van Loan denied that his government had ever made such promises. He also clashed with Jesse Brown, the host of Search Engine, over the phrase "reasonable expectation of privacy". Van Loan referred to what Canadian courts have defined as a "reasonable expectation of privacy", while Brown suggested that those legal definitions may clash with what Canadian internet users feel should be private.
Van Loan is correct in stating that Canadian courts have been hesitant to find even the slightest expectation of privacy in internet protocol addresses or phone numbers (I'll address these rulings in a later post). However, Brown is correct to point out that Canadians using the internet expect that their activities are carried out in private, whether or not the court finds these expectations reasonable.
More and more areas of our lives are moving into the online world, from work to play, from the social to the political. Van Loan's legislation will allow Canadian law enforcement agencies unprecedented access to our private lives. While the new law may meet the "reasonable" standards of constitutionality, it is still an unreasonable intrusion on innocent Canadians' lives.
(Originally discussed by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing)