Thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, Canadian cops need a warrant before they can get subscriber information from telecommunication companies—which is why police are now lobbying for a legal workaround so they can access that same information without court approval.
In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that subscriber information such as names and addresses carries with it a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that accessing such information without a warrant constitutes an unlawful search. The ruling has caused "substantial resource and workload challenges for law enforcement," according to a resolution adopted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) at its annual convention in August.
"The lesson has been that if police are given free reign to access sensitive data, they will overuse it"
Previously, requests for subscriber data were merely voluntary requests, and were often fulfilled on the same day they were filed, the resolution states. Now, a response can take more than a month to arrive. To get around this, the CACP announced it supports the creation of a new law "designed to specifically provide law enforcement the ability to obtain, in real-time or near real-time, basic subscriber information," which isn't possible when you need a warrant.
The CACP is even planning to craft such a legislative proposal itself, ahead of the Canadian government's next Cybercrime Working Group meeting in November.
"The lesson has been that if police are given free reign to access sensitive data, they will overuse it," Tamir Israel, a lawyer for the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, wrote in an email. "The simple fact is, while unchecked powers of this nature may be convenient for police, they are excessive in nature and there is no justification for them," he added.
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The report also reveals that a discussion paper prepared by the Canadian government's Department of Justice, and presented to the Cybercrime Working Group, proposed the creation of another "administrative (non-judicial) scheme," intended to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling.
However, "The 'administrative scheme' they mention is the one that was flatly rejected by Canadians and by the federal government when it was introduced as Bill C-30 back in 2011-12," Israel wrote. "At the time, the government committed never to passing such expansive powers again."
The Department of Justice has not returned Motherboard's request for comment.
If the CACP's efforts or that of the Department of Justice are successful, it could make last year's Supreme Court decision—a welcome win for privacy in Canada—a short lived victory.