The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) want computer users to hand over their encrypted passwords.
At their annual conference on Tuesday, the CACP passed a resolution demanding a new law that would force people to hand over their computer passwords with a judge’s consent.
Joe Oliver, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said that criminal behavior goes undetected online because perpetrators are “going dark,” hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.
“The victims in the digital space are real,” he said. “Canada’s law and policing capabilities must keep pace with the evolution of technology.”
Micheal Vonn, policy director for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association disagrees. “To say this is deeply problematic is to understate the matter,” Vonn said. “We have all kinds of laws that do not compel people to incriminate themselves or even speak.”
OpenMedia spokesman David Christopher called the CACP initiative “wildly disproportionate,” explaining that to give up the password to their computer is to effectively give up the “key to your whole personal life.”
OpenMedia advocates against online surveillance, and Christopher said the proposal would be in violation of people’s right to privacy. “On the face of it, this seems like it’s clearly unconstitutional.” he said.
Vonn also observed that providing access to photos, data, messages and other deeply personal information that is not pertinent to a criminal investigation would be “tricky constitutionally.”
Tamir Israel, a lawyer for the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa remarked, “It’s rare to force people to help police investigate themselves, and for good reason,” Israel continued. “It shifts the focus of criminal condemnation away from actual criminal activity and onto compliance. So if an individual legitimately objects to handing over their password, that alone makes them criminal.”
As background for the proposed law, the CACP referenced a report published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police called, “The challenges of gathering electronic evidence,” offering that such a law would prove useful in situations like the FBI’s attempt to compel Apple to provide the tools to gain access to a cell phone belonging to the employer of one of the San Bernardino shooters last year. The CACP, taking it a step further, want police to have access to telecom subscriber information without a warrant and in real time.
Vonn said that such legislation is a slippery slope, eroding the rights of private citizens.
“This has been a standard component of what the chiefs of police do, they argue for laws that would make policing easier,” she said. “But is it a good idea from a civil liberties perspective? No.”
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