Canadian Police chiefs want surveillance surcharge
R. A. Hettinga
rah at shipwright.com
Mon Aug 16 08:03:53 PDT 2004
- CTV News, Shows and Sports -- Canadian Television
Police chiefs want surveillance surcharge
CTV.ca News Staff
Updated: Mon. Aug. 16 2004 12:44 AM ET
Canada's police chiefs propose a surcharge of about 25 cents on monthly
telephone and Internet bills to cover the cost of tapping into the
communications of terrorists and other criminals.
The suggestion is intended to resolve a standoff between police forces and
telecommunications companies over who should foot the expense of providing
investigators with access to phone calls and e-mail messages.
Police say they cannot -- and should not -- be forced to pay the often
hefty costs involved in carrying out court-approved wiretaps and message
searches, warning that investigations will suffer if they are expected to
pick up the tab.
"This is a very, very serious issue for us. It has a potential for really
paralysing operations," said Supt. Tom Grue, a member of the law amendments
committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
But the country's largest phone company believes that telecommunications
firms and law-enforcement agencies, not subscribers, should split the costs.
"We think there should be more of a partnership between the agencies and
us, rather than getting the public to pay for it," said Bell Canada
spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis.
The matter has taken on new urgency as the federal government prepares
legislation aimed at preventing criminals from using new digital
technologies to shield their communications from police and intelligence
Authorities argue the measures are needed to keep up with sophisticated
criminals involved in such activities as terrorism, money laundering, child
pornography and murder.
The legislative proposals, outlined two years ago, have raised the hackles
of privacy advocates and civil libertarians.
Bubbling in the background is the equally thorny debate about money.
Under the federal proposals, service providers would be required, when
upgrading their systems, to build in the technical capabilities needed by
police and intelligence agencies, such as the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service, to easily tap communications.
The controversy revolves around the ongoing costs of looking up phone
numbers, hooking up to networks and relaying communications from one city
to another - individual services that may cost anywhere from pocket change
to thousands of dollars.
Currently, a hodgepodge of payment practices applies, from negotiation of
fees by the parties involved to refusal by some police forces to accept the
Grue, a member of the Edmonton police force, said the costs should be
spread as widely as possible to avoid unduly burdening a small number of
The association of police chiefs, which represents the majority of
Canadian forces, argues one way to accomplish that is adding a fee to each
subscriber's monthly telephone, cellular or Internet bill.
"We're thinking, amongst ourselves, 25 cents. Whether that would cover off
all the costs, we don't know. We haven't done the analysis on it," Grue
"But if you impose too great of a burden or put too high of a fee, then it
becomes less and less attractive, obviously."
Grue compares the proposed fee to the one customers already pay to support
911 emergency service, which ranges from about 25 to 50 cents a month
depending on the type of telephone plan.
Bell Canada's Michelis wants to pull the plug on the idea of a wiretap charge.
"We don't really think the cost should be flipped over to the general
public," she said.
"I don't know how popular that's going to be, something like that.
Twenty-five cents is a really significant amount to add to everybody's
Tom Copeland, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Internet
Providers, said tacking a fee on monthly bills "might work" but could
create a burdensome administrative regime that hampers companies,
especially small ones with few staff.
Grue said it's "a bit of a mystery" to him why the industry is decidedly
less than enthusiastic about the idea. "All companies would have that fee
on the bill, so it's not like you're giving one company a competitive
advantage over another company."
Federal officials have convened meetings of the various players to try to
work out the issues.
Internal Justice Department notes prepared following a roundtable session
in December stressed the need "not to further exacerbate the situation."
Bell Canada says it has invested heavily in infrastructure to allow for
wiretaps and is only trying to recover its costs on the day-to-day services
provided to police and intelligence agencies.
"Bell has already spent millions of dollars on this initiative and it's
going to continue costing us a huge amount of money going forward,"
Michelis said. "We are looking to get some sort of compensation on the
For the police, it's a matter of principle.
"From our perspective, it's a very slippery slope to start paying for the
execution of search warrants or any kind of a court order," said Grue.
Lucie Angers, a senior Justice Department lawyer, indicated the issues
will be resolved at the political level.
"You have different interests at stake," she said. "There's good sums of
money that are involved in taking these decisions."
Federal officials are interested in a solution that would "balance the
costs," said Simone McAndrew, a spokeswoman for the Public Safety
"Any proposal that is brought forward will be considered."
CSIS had no comment.
Copeland said if subscribers end up funding the surveillance effort
through monthly fees, Canadians would "demand a great deal more
explanation" about the initiative and how it affects their constitutional
and privacy rights.
And should the money come from law-enforcement budgets, the public will be
contributing "out the back door" through tax revenues, he noted.
"One way or another, Canadians are going to pay."
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
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