Lawful Access will unleash sweeping police powers
By Mark Hasiuk, Vancouver Courier January 23, 2012
Sometime soon, in a frontal assault on Internet freedom, the Harper government will table legislation known as “Lawful Access,” which will rob Canadians of privacy online. And we can thank, in part, the Vancouver Police Department, which runs a national pro-Lawful Access campaign out of VPD headquarters on Graveley Street. More on that in a moment.
Lawful Access, a series of Tory bills, will force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to collect and disclose information (name, address, email address) about customers (you and me) to law enforcement (cops and bureaucrats) without a warrant or judicial oversight. And will unleash sweeping warrant powers for police over online communication (emails, Facebook, chat rooms).
To justify Lawful Access, Harper and company fearmonger, conjuring images of terrorists and pedophiles skipping freely through cyberspace. But wait. Canadian cops and courts already own sufficient powers of online investigation. In fact, two years ago, before Lawful Access was derailed by an election, the Harper government failed to prove how current Canadian law—which protects personal information, online and elsewhere—prevents online crime fighting. And now, two years later, they still can’t. So they’re scrambling.
Enter the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, an Ottawa-based lobbying group and Lawful Access champion. As a CACP board member, VPD Chief Jim Chu rarely speaks publicly about CACP business. In an email sent earlier this month to CACP members across the country (and leaked to OpenMedia, a non-profit advocacy group based in Gastown), VPD Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke, also a CACP member, asks for examples where “refusal” by an ISP to provide a customer’s personal information has “hindered an investigation or threatened public safety.” Lemcke continues, spilling the beans: “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… 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.”
According to Lemcke, the VPD’s Planning, Research and Audit Section will collect and compile any “examples” for the CACP campaign. Your tax dollars at work.
“The most damning thing about this email is that they basically confirmed that they don’t have any examples and they’re digging for them now,” says Steve Anderson, founder of OpenMedia, during an interview with the Courier. “Lawful Access is a solution in search of a problem.”
Anderson’s right. Despite allusions to online crime, Lawful Access isn’t about crime fighting. Not really. It’s about controlling a new frontier. The Internet remains free and unfettered, relatively speaking, while government squirms on the sidelines. Government agents, notes Anderson, will patrol online chat rooms and public forums if Lawful Access becomes law. “If someone posts something in a forum, and the police are concerned about it, they can go to the ISP and get everyone’s information who’s been on that forum.”
And what happens to our personal information post-confiscation? In an age of cyber-security breaches, how do we know it’s safe? “Some of it will be stored by the ISPs because there’ll be requirements for retaining data,” says Anderson. “But beyond that, in terms of what the police do with it, it’s not clear.”
Democracy requires balance between the rule of law and the rights of citizens. Without proper constraints on government, the tenets of democracy—freedom of expression, freedom to associate—fall away. Those rights apply to all citizens, online or elsewhere.
However, despite the popularity of Google and Facebook, for many Canadians, particularly older folks, the Internet remains foreign territory. A world of porn and trash, devoid of common decency and unworthy of the typical restraints on law enforcement.
That sentiment, fuelled by fearmongering about homegrown terrorists and pedophiles, is what Harper, Chu and their underlings hope to exploit.
But make no mistake. Like all forms of government overreach, Lawful Access targets everyone. And until we abandon democracy and adopt a new form of government, even the worst Canadians have rights.