Jul 12 2015
OTTAWA - Putting a stop to the police practice of asking telecoms to simply turn over customers’ data without a warrant has not significantly hindered the RCMP’s work, internal documents show.
An internal RCMP survey conducted months after the Supreme Court limited the police’s ability to access personal information without a warrant says the ruling has had no “significant negative effects” on operations.
According to the documents, there is a general sentiment within the force that the court’s decision, known as Spencer, would cause investigative delays. But only 18 per cent of Mounties responding to the survey said they had any difficulty obtaining a production order for sensitive information they previously got informally.
“It appears that the biggest shift is that law enforcement is no longer able to rely on voluntary enforcement requests, and that the process of drafting and obtaining a production order or other judicial authorization is more time-consuming and rigorous,” reads the internal report, obtained by the Star under access to information law.
“The respondents mostly indicate that this decision has resulted in investigative delays, but not necessarily derailing investigations or changing ultimate outcomes.”
In 2011, nine companies were asked by law enforcement and government agencies to voluntarily hand over their customers’ personal information a total of 1.2 million times.
Privacy advocates called those numbers “jaw-dropping,” far surpassing long-standing suspicions about police access to private citizens’ personal information.
A joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the Halifax Chronicle Herald revealed that police and government had made a similar number of warrantless requests for years.
In June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled the practice must be limited to emergency situations, and most of the so-called voluntary disclosures actually require judicial authorization.
Proponents of “lawful access” policies argue that requiring police to get judicial authorization for “phone book data” - things like names, addresses, telephone numbers and Internet protocol (IP) addresses - would bury cops in paperwork.
According to the November 2014 RCMP report, that didn’t happen. The report also notes that while the number of warrantless requests has dropped sharply, there has been only a slight increase in production orders.
The RCMP survey was conducted two months after the Spencer decision, and the report warns that the full impact will be known only in the coming years.