House committee wants telcos to decrypt intercepted messages

Telecommunications companies may be compelled to decrypt legally intercepted messages for law enforcement agencies if recommendations by a House standing committee are adopted.

The recommendations by the House Committee on Justice and Human Rights are included in a report titled The State of Organized Crime, according to David Fraser, a privacy blogger and partner at the Halifax law firm McInnes Cooper LLP.

He said the committee recommends:

  • That the Government of Canada pursue legislation requiring telecommunications service providers and telecommunications device manufacturers to build the ability to intercept telecommunications into their equipment and networks.
  • That the Government of Canada introduce legislation requiring telecommunications service providers and telecommunications device manufacturers to decrypt legally intercepted communications or to provide assistance to law enforcement agencies in this regard.

“Bill C-30, with warrantless access to subscriber data and real-time internet monitoring, is the tip of the iceberg if the recommendations of the House Committee on Justice and Human Rights are followed,” Fraser wrote in his privacy blog.

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He also said the recommendations were reported in the Montreal Gazette but has since been taken off the publication’s Web site.
Here is an excerpt from that article, the full text of which can be found in Fraser’s blog:

Telecommunications companies would be forced to decrypt messages for law-enforcement agencies if the federal government legislates recommendations outlined in a report by a House standing committee.

“Law-enforcement agencies are way behind, or have been way behind, in the ability to deal with the new modes of communications,” said Conservative MP Dave MacKenzie, chair of the House standing committee on justice and human rights.

The report, the State of Organized Crime, states that although telecommunications can be intercepted, the service providers don’t always release standardized information to law-enforcement agencies.

The committee argues that federal legislation could address this lack of standards by furthering ideas found in Bill C-30, the online surveillance bill.

“When you’re dealing with organized crime, they’re very well-funded and well-organized …. They move communications abilities around in different ways: passing cell phones around is just the very beginning,” said MacKenzie.

NDP MP Jack Harris added: “There has to be some sort of modernization of the law with respect to surveillance. We’ve got laws with respect to telephone surveillance and some of those laws should apply to use of other electronic devices, whether they be cell phones, emails and things like that.”

Michael Geist, privacy advocate, Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, also reported that Postmedia reported on the recommendations but the article is no longer available on its media sites.

The article included specific comments from Bell Canada “that suggest its primary concern associated with the demands boils down to questions of who will bear the cost,” Geist wrote in his blog.

“That is a troubling position for many Canadians who rightly expect their telecom companies to also be concerned with the privacy of their customers,” he said.

“After the outcry in February over Bill C-30, many also expected the government to be open to change on lawful access, yet this report suggests that the changes may not be what many were anticipating,” he added.


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