CSIS chief supports online surveillance bill, offers to help

The Canadian Press

Canada’s spy chief backs the Conservative government’s troubled bid to bolster Internet surveillance powers, and has offered to help tweak the legislation to make it more palatable to a wary public.

In a letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Dick Fadden says the spy agency was “extremely pleased” to see the bill come before Parliament, considering it “vital” to protecting national security.

CSIS was drafting “potential options” to strengthen accountability measures in the bill, says the late February letter, sent to the embattled minister following a wave of opposition to the legislation from civil libertarians and Internet privacy advocates.

The Canadian Press obtained a declassified version of the top secret letter this week under the Access to Information Act.

The federal legislation would allow police, intelligence and competition bureau officers access to Internet subscriber information — including name, address, telephone number, email address and Internet Protocol address — without a warrant. An IP address is the numeric label assigned to a computer on the Internet.

It would also require telecommunication service providers to have the technical capability to enable police and spies to intercept messages and conversations.

“Of the various provisions contained in the bill, the intercept capability requirements are of primary importance to the Service and critical to national security,” Fadden says in the letter.

There have been cases in which such technical barriers prevented CSIS prevented from carrying out surveillance authorized by Federal Court warrant, he says. Operations are also jeopardized when communication networks “go dark” — including one unexpected outage that lasted over a week, Fadden adds.

The RCMP has said that police must often engineer interception solutions before they are able to execute a court order, meaning sometimes they are unable to tap into communications.

Fadden acknowledges the cost for companies to set up and maintain intercept-capable networks could be significant. But he argues the legislation provides “generous lead times and grandfathering provisions” that will help industry.

Opponents of the bill say allowing authorities access to Internet subscriber information without a court-approved warrant would be a dangerous infringement of privacy because even that limited data can be revealing.

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