ISPs: Feds should pay for Internet surveillance

Canadian Internet service providers say they shouldn’t have to pay for the costs to conduct criminal surveillance on behalf of police under potential changes to the Lawful Access law.

The Department of Justice late last week released the results of a consultation that began last year after it issued a proposal for legislation that would require ISPs to keep all traffic logs for six months, while allowing authorities to more closely monitor suspected criminals. It also raised the notion of a national database of every Canadian with an Internet account.

The more than 300 responses to the consultation process included submissions from major telecommunications providers like BCE and Telus, public interest advocacy groups like Electronic Frontier Canada as well as industry associations representing ISPs. In a chapter which summarizes the service providers’ views, industry advocates maintain that the government should pick up the tab for any “”basic intercept capability”” that law enforcement officials would require.

“”These costs should be worked out between each service provider and the agency concerned rather than being based on universal tariffs laid out in the regulations for various types of support,”” the report says. “”Industry Canada and the Solicitor General, or an independent arbitrator, should mediate any disputes about fees for service between a service provider and a law enforcement agency.””

Jay Thomson, president of the Canadian Association of Internet Service Providers (CAIP), said most members support the idea that police may occasionally need their help as they conduct investigations.

“”Anything that is similar to the wiretapping laws that exist for traditional telephone service — we’re comfortable with extending the same sort of laws to the relatively new medium of the Internet,”” he said. “”This is a matter that’s law enforcement-related and not strictly business-related for the companies. If this is a government interest, then government should be seriously considering paying for the cost of it.””

Clayton Pecknold, a member of the law amendments committee at the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, said law enforcement officials recognize there might be costs associated with a bill, but he said ISPs may not be the only ones affected.

“”The police have been facing rising costs in many of these investigations for quite some time,”” he said. “”Those are actually directed at the taxpayer through police budgets.””

One of the major problems so far, Thomson said, was a lack of detailed information about what changes might be made to Lawful Access, which was first introduced in 1974 to deal with traditional telephone service.

“”It’s taking longer than we had expected it to take,”” he said, “”but it all relates to the release of the information. The government can decide its own schedule, as long as it provides the information necessary before it makes any decisions.””

IDC Canada telecommunications analyst Lawrence Surtees pointed out that the government released its initial plans at a police conference on a Sunday in August, when many of the interested stakeholders would have been on vacation. The initial three-month deadline to submit was later extended to allow more substantive analysis, he said.

“”I think Ottawa was kind of flying by the seat of its pants,”” he said. “”They have started a process that the police have wanted for years.””

Pecknold said the police are as in the dark as anyone else.

“”It would be nice to know how, in practice, many of these provisions will work,”” he said. “”We’re certainly not interested in putting anything forward without a proper process of consultation.””

The government said it is studying the feedback it obtained to determine how best to proceed in developing the lawful access legislative proposals.


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