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Canada weak link in global terror communications
Sarah Staples
CanWest News Service

OTTAWA - A senior FBI official says Canada needs to follow countries such  as the U.S. in moving toward stricter Internet and cellphone wiretapping  laws, or become a "weak link" in what has become a global war on terrorist  communications.  

Mike Kirkpatrick, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Criminal  Justice Information Services Division, said in an interview with CanWest  News Service that it would be "desirable" for Canada to give police and  spy agencies legal authority to tap citizen's private e-mail and  Internet-driven phone calls, and to facilitate the process by compelling  cellphone and Internet service providers  to make their equipment easier  to tap.

"Canada is a very strong partner of the United States, and vice versa. I  think it's desirable that we can get as many places as possible to adopt  it," said Kirkpatrick, referring to a controversial proposal by the FBI  and U.S. Justice Department that would enforce similar strict provisions  in the U.S. 

  "You're only as strong as your weakest link, so if you have places that  don't adopt (such measures) then that's a weak link."   Kirkpatrick was in Ottawa Monday and Tuesday to speak at an international  conference on cyber security and law enforcement.  

 The need is urgent in both countries to update so-called "lawful access"  laws so security forces can deal effectively with an explosion of Internet  and cellphone telecommunications, and in particular Internet phone  traffic, known as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), explained  Kirkpatrick.  

The FBI and U.S. State Department have argued that companies offering  telephone service over the Internet are increasingly popular with  terrorists, who believe those transmissions are more technically difficult  to tap, and who benefit from outdated wiretapping laws that don't apply to  Internet calls.  

Last week, representatives from the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI and  the Drug Enforcement Administration provoked a swift, negative response  from privacy advocates and VoIP entrepreneurs after they asked a Federal  Communications Commission panel to extend the Communications Assistance to  Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to Internet service providers.  

That law requires telephone companies and equipment providers to configure  their networks so that phone conversations are easier to tap. Other  legislation enacted since the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001, allows  circuit-switched and cellphone conversations to be tapped without a  warrant under certain circumstances.  

Canadian law, meanwhile, doesn't go nearly as far. Right now, CSIS, the  RCMP and local police rely on a patchwork of laws - including the Criminal  Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Competition  Act - for powers to intercept communications, and to search and seize  information.  

Security forces can only tap communications with a warrant under limited  circumstances that make it difficult to quickly and effectively track down  criminals. And traditional wire-line phone services, cellphone service  providers and Internet providers aren't compelled to design systems that  are technically easy to tap.  

If the U.S. Justice Department and FBI prevail, Internet service providers  and others won't just be forced to make their equipment easy to tap. A  petition sent to regulators last week, and signed by Deputy Assistant  Attorney General John G. Malcolm and others from the FBI and the DEA,  would force VoIP entrepreneurs to seek approval from federal regulators  before they could open for business or expand.  

VoIP entrepreneurs have responded that it's unfair to lump VoIP, cellphone  instant messages, e-mail and Blackberry communications together with  traditional circuit-switched calls, arguing the former are computer, not  phone, services.  They add that forcing companies to publicly reveal their business plans to  federal bureaucrats would give competitors in other nations, including  Canada and Europe, an unfair advantage. 

A spokesman for Margaret Bloodworth, deputy minister of Public Safety and  Emergency Preparedness, refused to comment Monday on the status of  previously announced plans to stiffen Canadian wiretap laws.  

And a spokeswoman for Anne McLellan said the revamping of "lawful access"  provisions were "in no way shape or form covered" under a sweeping,  multi-million-dollar National Security Plan unveiled by the minister of  Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Tuesday.  

"That's moving on a separate track," said Farah Mohamed, the minister's  director of communications.  

But a proposal released with little fanfare by the federal government in  October 2002 would compel telephone, wireless and Internet service  providers to open every form of telecommunications traffic - described as  a "basic intercept capability" - to officers who present a court order for  the information.  

Internet providers, cell and wire-line telephone companies under the  controversial proposal would have to keep tabs on suspects identified by  warrant, and any legally obtained information could potentially be fed to  security forces internationally.  

Privacy advocacy organizations, including the federal privacy  commissioner, have panned the proposal as a draconian invasion of privacy;  while Internet service providers and cellphone service providers are  concerned about the potentially multi-million-dollar cost of retrofitting  their systems. 

The FBI's Kirkpatrick noted that if the U.S. becomes the only jurisdiction  with exceedingly strict wiretapping laws, terrorists could gravitate to  Canada and elsewhere in order to speed their covert messages through.  "

So it's an issue for the whole world. The whole free world, the whole  freedom-loving world needs to stand shoulder to shoulder on this kind of  issue so that you don't have these free havens where people can operate  pretty much with impunity."

© CanWest News Service 2004

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