Internet snooping bill does little to help catch child predators: privacy lawyer

The government’s Internet snooping bill, which went from having the innocuous title “Lawful Access Act” to the much more pejorative “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act,” actually does little to trap and catch child predators, according to a leading privacy lawyer.

The bill seeks to set up a system wherein police can get their hands on personal information — such as names and home addresses — through a customer’s Internet provider, without a warrant.

The government’s rhetoric on the bill suggests the legislation is about protecting children from online predators and making it easier to catch people engaged in child pornography.

But at the same time, the lawmakers haven’t provided any evidence this is necessary, said David Fraser, a privacy lawyer who is a partner with the McInnes Cooper firm in Nova Scotia.

Under current laws, Internet service providers hand over customer name and address information without a warrant in 95 per cent of cases involving child exploitation investigations, Fraser said.

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“They’re already getting this information without a warrant,” he said from Halifax. “This really, as far as I’m able to understand, is not a problem that needs to be fixed.”

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who introduced the bill Tuesday, came under fire when he told a Liberal MP to “either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”

In the same speech, the minister explained the legislation was necessary because, “As technology evolves, many criminal activities, such as the distribution of child pornography, become much easier. We are proposing measures to bring our laws into the 21st century and to provide the police with the lawful tools that they need.”

Even if an inability to catch online child predators is the problem that needs to be fixed, Fraser said, these laws wouldn’t be the right tools for the job.

“It goes completely overboard,” he said, noting the speeches and circulated texts relating to the bill mention fighting child predators, terrorism and criminal activity. “There’s no limitation in the act that would curtail or limit the use of these powers to these investigations. In fact, there’s no obligation that there even be a real investigation whatsoever.”

What’s more, Fraser said, is there is no accountability or oversight written into the bill.

Simply put, Fraser said, the system the bill proposes, can easily — and without consequence — be used in background investigations, to investigate parking tickets, find out more about the author of a disapproving letter to the prime minister or get information on someone who seems to be spending a lot of time looking up the legal ramifications of tax evasion.

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