As Canadians, we rightly place a very high value on our privacy. As a career police officer, I have spent much of my life ensuring that my actions and those of the officers under my command do not intrude into the privacy of others, unless authorized by law and in pursuit of those who threaten, harm or steal from others.
While all new laws should be subject to rigorous debate, I worry that the misinformation surrounding the proposed Bill C-30 "Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act" is distracting us from the true goal of this bill -- protecting victims by updating laws last introduced by Parliament in 1974. At that time, telecommunications consisted of rotary phones, telegraphs and physical lines of wire. A technology revolution has seen the rapid adoption of mobile devices, computers and social media -- an evolution of technology not envisaged by law-makers back in the 1970s.
Canadians reap many benefits from today's technologies. So do criminals. We have inadvertently created safe havens for those who exploit technology to traffic in weapons, drugs and people. It is a boon to pedophile networks, money launderers, extortionists, telemarketers, fraudsters and terrorists. Cyber bullies communicate their vitriol with impunity. If we stand by and do nothing, criminals will continue to use these interactive platforms to harass and threaten others, commit frauds, scams and organized and violent crimes with little fear of being caught.
I enthusiastically agree that privacy is a right to cherish and guard vigorously. We believe that the new legislation, with our recommended amendments to strengthen privacy rights, will help make Canada a safer place. To level the playing field for law enforcement, successive federal governments introduced updated lawful access legislation in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. All of these bills died on the order paper. In the meantime, the threats to individuals and community are increasing. The current proposed legislation includes the following assurances/improvements:
-- Access to private information will continue to require a judicial authorization (warrant).
-- Telecommunications providers will be required to preserve data while a warrant is being obtained.
-- Basic subscriber information (the equivalent to information provided by a telephone directory) will be obtainable in a timely and consistent manner. As opposed to today's environment, the new legislation builds in an audit trail to ensure accountability (including making available reporting to the judiciary and privacy commissioners) and to limit those within policing who can make such a request.
What is the cost of not proceeding with the modernization of our laws? Organized criminals will plan their killings and kidnappings using communications providers whose systems do not have the technical ability to be monitored through the warrant process. Terrorists will be able to exploit these same gaps. Victims of scams will be told that the evidence trail linking the suspect to the crime has disappeared because the service provider has no obligation to preserve data.
Perhaps even worse, the parents of a child who has been lured or criminally harassed over the Internet will learn that the police investigation will be delayed or completely unsuccessful because of the need to obtain a warrant for basic subscriber information. The RCMP's National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre looked at a sample of 1,244 requests for basic subscriber information in 2010. The average response time to gain such information was 12 days. This is unacceptable.
The challenge of Bill C-30 is to strike the right balance between providing law enforcement with investigative tools to ensure individual and public safety while ensuring the protection of privacy. We support the greater protections which have been built into this bill. It is illegal for police to randomly snoop on Canadians. This does not change with the new legislation.
Can the bill be improved? Absolutely, and we support a provision to clarify privacy rights. Do police in Canada support "unwarranted Internet surveillance" or "snooping"? Absolutely not.
Parliament has the opportunity to bring law enforcement powers into the 21st century. Canadian police chiefs have spoken up in the name of the victims of crime we encounter every day. If the laws are not modernized, I assure Canadians we will still do our jobs to the best of our ability, but there will be less policing capacity, fewer cases prosecuted, more victims of crime, and more unsolved cases. Criminals will like that.
Chief Constable Jim Chu is the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.