Lawful Access: a creepy Valentine from Vic Toews

No one will ‘read emails without a warrant,’ he says. Indeed, it may be much worse than that.

(Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Vic Toews wants to make one thing clear: He does not want to read my email. His office reached out to me after I wrote this post, which detailed the inability of our police to find one good example of why they need new Lawful Access laws, to be tabled today.  Toews’ flack was eager to set me straight: “No legislation proposed by our Conservative Government will allow police to unlawfully read emails without a warrant.” Thanks, got it. Of course, I never said that it would.

What I said is that Lawful Access may actually be much worse than that. Lawful Access demands that cell phone providers and Internet companies (this could mean websites as well as Internet providers) re-engineer their networks for the purpose of surveillance.  To make sure these companies get and stay in line, the police will have new regulatory authority over these providers–the cops will be able to audit our networks and websites for compliance. Then, the police will have far easier access–in many cases warrantless access–to our data. I doubt the police themselves understand how invasive this is, and how much of a liability it presents.

Here’s a rule: If it is collected, it will be leaked. Forcing ISPs and websites to store vast reams of personal information, and to then build systems that allow the police to access it basically guarantees privacy seepage. And how many Videotron or Fido technicians will also need access to our private data, just to make sure the systems function? All it takes is one disgruntled employee posting their password online, and millions could be compromised in seconds. Toews should start writing his press release for this inevitability right away.

But wait, it gets worse. Michael Geist points out just one way of many in which Lawful Access will give police frightening new capabilities. With a push of a button, police could gather the mobile identity numbers of every person present in a certain area. It’s as good as a name. Geist uses the G20 protests as one instance where it may have been useful for police to instantly generate a list of people to keep a close eye on, or to arrest later. But hey, why stop there? If no warrant is needed, why not take mobile ID snapshots of crime-ridden corners every night? They could know who is standing where at all times.

If I was a cop, I’d take that over your Gmail password any day.

Jesse Brown is the host of’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown

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