Canada boosts police powers, alarms privacy watchdog

Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:32pm EST
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By Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A new law gives police stronger powers to track what Canadians do online, but raises concern from the privacy watchdog about "warrantless access to personal information."

The Conservative government says the draft law it unveiled on Tuesday aims at hunting down pedophiles or other criminals by giving police, the country's spy agency and the Competition Bureau increased access to customer data from Internet service providers.

Law enforcers will no longer need a warrant to ask internet providers to hand over "identifying information" such as names, addresses, email addresses, unlisted phone numbers and IP addresses.

Ottawa says it is simply modernizing its crime-fighting tools and notes that that similar laws are already in place in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

But Chantal Bernier, the assistant privacy commissioner of Canada, said the bill raised serious concerns.

"There is an outstanding issue that to us remains of concern and that is that it still allows warrantless access to personal information ... and it's not framed either in terms of suspicions of criminal activity or in the context of a criminal investigation," Bernier told Reuters.

"It's wide open and so it could impact on any law-abiding Canadian," she said.

The government named the bill "protecting children from internet predators act", framing it as a new tool to end frustrating delays police face when they seek to track suspects' online activities.   Continued...