Aug 18 2016
OTTAWA - Canadians need to think about how far police should be allowed to go in accessing their electronic devices and communications, the federal public safety minister says.
A federal review of cybersecurity will provide a chance to discuss a proposal from Canada's police chiefs for a new law that would compel people to hand over passwords with a judge's consent, Ralph Goodale said Wednesday.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says the measure is needed to fight criminals in cyberspace who increasingly use tools to hide their identities and communications.
In the United States, there are literally thousands of smartphones and other digital devices "sitting on shelves'' because authorities can't get into them, said Terrence Cunningham, a police chief in Massachusetts and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
"And we know that those devices hold the answers to the questions that we need so that we can hold people accountable and prosecute some of these cases,'' Cunningham said during the Canadian chiefs' annual conference this week.
After a speech Wednesday to the gathering, Goodale acknowledged that smartphones contain a wealth of personal data and can reveal much more about a person than an ordinary physical search might.
But he added that while Canadians value their privacy, they also want police to have the necessary tools to investigate crimes. "I think Canadians recognize the imperatives on both sides.''
Civil libertarians and privacy advocates cried foul when the previous Conservative government introduced legislation that would have allowed police access to Internet subscriber information - including name, address, telephone number, email address and Internet Protocol address - without a warrant.
OpenMedia, a group that advocates online freedom, says the chiefs' new password proposal is likely unconstitutional.
But Goodale suggested Wednesday that the issue of police access to digital communications hasn't sparked the same kind of national debate that has taken place in the U.S.
"This is a critically important subject area, and one that - for one reason or another - has not been subject to adequate public discussion. I think over the course of the fall, it will. And that will help us as a government and it will also help police forces and security agencies to define the parameters.''
The federal cybersecurity consultation launched this week runs through mid-October.
The overall aim is to identify gaps and opportunities, bring forward new ideas to shape a renewed approach and capitalize on the advantages of new technology, the government says.
In his address to the chiefs, Goodale said major companies in telecommunications, utilities and finance are investing huge amounts in cybersecurity, but smaller enterprises with limited time and resources cannot do as much.
"This represents real risk and missed opportunity,'' he said.
"The hackers and scammers who are constantly trying to break into our information systems are a motley but potent combination of foreign states, militaries, terror groups, organized crime, petty thieves and vandals, and even that lonely computer geek in his underwear in the basement.''