On the government's internet surveillance plans

Minister Vic Towes responded to Privacy Commissioner Jen Stoddart’s open letter Friday:

Toews was quick to shoot down Stoddart’s concerns in an ongoing battle that pits the government against consumer advocates and privacy experts. “Our approach strikes an appropriate balance between the investigative powers used to protect public safety and the necessity to safeguard the privacy of Canadians,” Toews said in a statement Thursday in response to Stoddart’s letter.

“As technology evolves, many criminal activities - such as the distribution of child pornography - become much easier. We are proposing measures to bring our laws into the 21st Century and provide police with the tools they need to do their job.”

CBC News

This neglects some basic facts of history. There used to be a thing called a general warrant or writ of assistance, which would be issued by the King. They authorized the King’s men to search anybody and everybody because someone had committed a crime. The technology has always existed to do that – a battering ram will surely open your door. The point is that we don’t have general warrants any more because it’s wrong.

We do not live in a police state where police can randomly stop and interrogate or search people in the hope of eventually catching a criminal. Justice William Goodridge

Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure. Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

If Minister Towes were an honest person, he might argue that because the records in question are held by a third party that there is a lesser expectation of privacy, and so no judicial order is required for their disclosure. I think you’ll find he’s made no such argument, a fact from which you may draw your own conclusions. I happen to think that such an argument fails, but it isn’t even being made.

Instead, Towes simply asserts that police require these powers – and no such assertion would be complete without the perennial moral panic of child pornography. Of course, I have nothing against police pursuing child pornography investigations. But there’s no explanation for why warrants are too onerous a requirement, or why a blanket removal of warrant requirements is appropriate. The obvious conclusion is that there’s no such justification.

You might also notice that Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, and Murray Stooke, Deputy Chief of the Calgary Police Service and Former Vice-Chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police‘s Law Amendments Committee both clearly state that police do not need the warrant requirement removed.

I think it’s incumbent upon the government to make the case for these new police powers clear, even (especially?) when they have a majority that can pass any law they feel like. I’m waiting – but I’m not holding my breath.