Canadian Law Enforcement Agency Dropping Cases Rather Than Deal With New Warrant Requirements For ISP Subscriber Info
from the if-at-first-you-don't-succeed,-quit dept
A funny thing happens when courts start requiring more information from law enforcement: law enforcers suddenly seem less interested in zealously enforcing the law.
Back in June of this year, Canada’s Supreme Court delivered its decision in R. v. Spencer, which brought law enforcement’s warrantless access of ISP subscriber info to an end.
In a unanimous decision written by (Harper appointee) Justice Thomas Cromwell, the court issued a strong endorsement of Internet privacy, emphasizing the privacy importance of subscriber information, the right to anonymity, and the need for police to obtain a warrant for subscriber information except in exigent circumstances or under a reasonable law.
The effects of this ruling are beginning to be felt. Michael Geist points to a Winnipeg Free Press article that details the halcyon days of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s warrantless access.
Prior to the court decision, the RCMP and border agency estimate, it took about five minutes to complete the less than one page of documentation needed to ask for subscriber information, and the company usually turned it over immediately or within one day.
Five minutes! Amazing. And disturbing. A 5-minute process indicates no one involved made even the slightest effort to prevent abuse of the process. The court’s decision has dialed back that pace considerably. The RCMP is now complaining that it takes “10 hours” to fill out the 10-20 pages required to obtain subscriber info. It’s also unhappy with the turnaround time, which went from nearly immediate to “up to 30 days.”
In response, the RCMP has done what other law enforcement agencies have done when encountering a bit of friction: given up.
“Evidence is limited at this early stage, but some cases have already been abandoned by the RCMP as a result of not having enough information to get a production order to obtain (basic subscriber information),” the memo says.
The RCMP also points out that the 30-day response period will sometimes outlast the 30-day IP log retention period, resulting in information being destroyed before the agency can access it. It also notes that it’s facing a bit of backlash in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Banks, hotels, and car rental companies are reviewing the Supreme Court decision and “a few have signalled less voluntary co-operation” in future.
Yeah, that’s a shame. But it seems to be a feeling that’s becoming increasingly common as the pendulum swings back towards protecting the rights of the public. Several companies have spent years being forced to play the submissive part in this involuntary relationship, handing out an endless number of “how highs” in response to the government’s “jump!” orders. “Less voluntary” is what the future holds for intelligence agencies and law enforcement alike.
If the RCMP is dropping cases because it doesn’t have enough put together to “fulfill the requirements” of its warrant paperwork, then it really doesn’t have enough of a case put together to be demanding that third parties turn over information related to the suspect. It’s that simple. The cases it has dropped obviously aren’t strong enough to justify attempts to gather more information. The warrant requirement is going to turn the RCMP into a better law enforcement agency — one that doesn’t pursue certain investigations just because they’re easy. This forces the RCMP to better evaluate its caseload and cut loose those that suffer from a dearth of information. The RCMP may now be counting up its theoretical losses (the cases that it’s dropping), but Canadian citizens are better protected against ad hoc bulk surveillance and law enforcement fishing expeditions.