Law enforcement efforts to revive lawful access reform continue to face political and public opposition. Earlier this month, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security recommended that the current approach remain unchanged. Indeed, Committee Chair Rob Oliphant said that police sought expanded powers, but that the argument was not yet “compelling.”
Public Safety’s report released last week on responses to its national consultation on security indicates that the broader public agrees. The issue drew the majority of feedback during the consultation:
participants emphasized that respect for privacy and due process are the most important considerations for national security agencies and law enforcement when conducting investigations in the digital world. Many participants said that the challenges faced by investigators in the digital world do not justify circumventing existing rules and regulations and that, if anything, even more oversight and safeguard mechanisms are needed, given how often Canadians use the Internet for sensitive matters such as personal communications and banking. A clear majority of participants oppose giving government the capacity to intercept personal communications, even if a court authorizes the interception, and oppose any moves to weaken encryption technology. Even those who support broad powers of interception think it should only be allowed under rigorous judicial authorization and be limited in scope.
The public did not shy away from addressing access to basic subscriber information, a key target for law enforcement reforms, which seek access to some information without court oversight. The public is strongly opposed to such an approach:
Perhaps the most revealing result of the online consultations is that seven in 10 responses consider their Basic Subscriber Information (BSI) – such as their name, home address, phone number and email address – to be as private as the actual contents of their emails, personal diary and their medical and financial records. Almost half (48%) said BSI should only be provided in “limited circumstances” and with judicial approval, and about one in six (17%) said it should only be available to law enforcement in emergency circumstances, and even then only with a judicial warrant. The principal concern about revealing someone’s BSI is that it could be used for location tracking or to access even more online information about that person.
The prospect of enhanced interception capabilities also generated significant opposition alongside concerns for the economics of government mandated capabilities:
Organizations that commented on these issues tended to argue against requiring providers to build interception capabilities into their networks, with many suggesting that some capabilities already exist and the government has not demonstrated a need for any changes. Many industry organizations said any increased costs of interception should be borne by the government.
Overall, the consultation left no doubt that participants care about their privacy. The report notes that “the vast majority of responses – more than four in five – show that the expectation of privacy in the digital world is the same as or higher than in the physical world.” If the government is a serious using consultations to help guide policy, lawful access reform should be shelved for the foreseeable future.