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Canadian police want access to Internet exchanges -- including text messages

Canada last of the G8 countries to modernize access legislation, police chiefs argue.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

There's a new front opening up in the war to open electronic communications to police scrutiny -- and this time, it's in Canada.

The Canadian Press has the story:

WINDSOR, Ont. -- Canadian police chiefs are calling on Ottawa to give police the power to get occasional access to text messages, cellphone calls, emails and BlackBerry pings.

The request was part of a resolution passed at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Windsor, Ont., that wrapped up Wednesday.

Deputy Chief Const. Bob Downie from Saanich, B.C., said it would require that the devices be manufactured so communications can be intercepted. As it stands criminals have a secure means of communication that cannot be accessed by police, Downie said.

"I expect it is very valuable to them, it has allowed them to be ahead of police and have a secure means of communication and they feel invulnerable to carry out criminal activities,'' Downie said.

The chiefs say Canada lags behind other G8 countries on the issue and note lawful access legislation has been introduced as government bills on a number of occasions, only to die on the order paper.

"Legislation has not been updated since the time of the rotary phone and Canada is among the last of the G8 countries to modernize its laws in this area and make new telecommunication technologies intercept capable,'' said association president Chief Dale McFee.

Police also want to be able to apply for communications from Internet service providers for investigations.

"This is a tremendously important piece of legislation to help law enforcement combat organized crime, gangs, child exploitation, identity theft and pursue those involved in many other criminal activities,'' McFee noted.

The Harper Conservatives would also like to see changes to the laws that govern how police can access electronic communications for their investigation, said a government spokeswoman.

"(Public Safety Minister Vic) Toews agrees that police should have the ability, with the appropriate legal constraints, to access electronic communication for the purpose of gathering evidence,'' ministry spokeswoman Julie Carmichael wrote in an email.

This is particularly important for investigating cases of child pornography and other crimes that are taking place online more and more frequently, she said. Many of these suggestions are included in the government's omnibus crime bill, she added.

However, the Conservatives would not support any changes to the law that allow police to access electronic communications without a warrant, she said.

Another resolution at the chiefs' conference calls for regulations to be changed so that the name and number of cellphone callers to 911 operators are displayed. The chiefs said that information can improve response times in emergency situations.

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