Madam Speaker, I am very proud to rise before the House today to debate Bill C-47, which confirms once again that this government is committed to getting tough on crime. Since coming to office, we have taken concrete steps to give those in law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on crime and ensure that criminals face the consequences of their actions. This long overdue legislation is yet another crucial step forward in our strategy to keep Canadians safe and our country secure. It will equip the police and national security agents with the tools they need to combat crime and terrorism in the digital age.
This bill, the technical assistance for law enforcement in the 21st century act, will enable the law enforcement community and our justice partners to investigate and prosecute crime in a rapidly evolving communications environment. The bill, in a nutshell, will give them the same capability to access Internet and cellphone messages with warrants as they currently have to access wiretap telephone calls. Equally important, it will give national security agencies new intercept capabilities to combat terrorism and to work more effectively with their global counterparts.
Many of our closest allies have had similar legislation in place for quite some time now. In fact, last year the G8 called on members to beef up their intercept capability to fight international crime. That is precisely what this legislation will do.
Bill C-47 will remove the competitive advantage which technology has given to criminals and to terrorists for far too long. As it now stands, when Canadian police officers and national security officials try to intercept messages being sent by criminals or terrorists using the latest technologies, they are hamstrung by legislation dating back decades. Canada's intercept laws are 35 years old. They were written in the days of the typewriter and rotary telephone, long before the world of email and smart phones.
Today's antiquated law gives lawbreakers an unfair and sometimes frightening advantage. Child pornographers, organized crime members and terrorists are using sophisticated new technologies to conduct their activities out of reach of the law. The fast-growing gap between our outdated legislation and today's tech-savvy criminals poses a significant threat to all Canadians. It is creating virtual safe havens where sexual predators, perpetrators of hate crimes, and Internet fraud artists can operate free from fear of detection and apprehension. That is something that Bill C-47 will stop. The bill will shut these safe havens down. High tech equipped criminals will now be met by high tech equipped police officers.
The previous government introduced lawful access legislation recognizing the need to give public safety officials the tools they require to do their jobs. While it was a good start, Bill C-47 builds on that effort and strengthens it further. Specifically, the bill before us today will ensure that when law enforcement and security officials have a warrant to intercept messages by criminals or terrorists, they are not prevented from doing so due to a lack of technical ability.
Today we have situations where judicial authorization is granted but the interception cannot take place because the network is not intercept capable. This is simply unacceptable. Canada's police forces and CSIS must be able to keep pace with the advanced technologies being used by criminals and terrorists.
I want to be clear, however, that the proposals we are putting forward are not new or even revolutionary. In modernizing Canada's lawful access laws, we are not providing new powers or expanding on existing interception authorities that have been in place since 1974, nor are we compromising individuals' personal information, or putting an undue burden on business. We are simply bringing our country's legislation out of the cold war era and into the 21st century.
I can assure my hon. colleagues that this legislation strikes the right balance between the interests of technology companies that need to remain competitive, the interests of the police in keeping our communities safe, and the interests of members of the public in their legitimate expectations of privacy. Our government's proposed changes will be introduced gradually to allow businesses to adjust to these new obligations.
Bill C-47 provides an initial transition period of 18 months to allow service providers time to integrate lawful interception requirements into new equipment and services. It includes the possibility of a two-year exemption to respond to new technologies. This will serve to protect innovation and competitiveness.
The legislation is also flexible enough to respond to a company's particular circumstances. The specific needs of smaller firms have in fact been taken into account. The bill contains a three-year exemption for service providers with less than 100,000 subscribers from certain requirements that are too costly for them at this time. Certain organizations, such as schools, libraries and charities, are also exempt entirely.
Equally important to the private sector, service providers will be free to select the most cost-effective intercept solutions available. They will not be tied to government-determined standards or equipment. Along with flexibility, we have built cost sharing into the legislation to help defray the expenses associated with these changes.
Companies will be required to pay for intercept capability in certain new equipment and software. However, the government will provide reasonable compensation when retrofits to existing networks are needed. This approach recognizes that we have a shared responsibility to address a problem that directly affects the safety of Canadians.
The other major component of the government's proposed legislation is the requirement for service providers to make basic subscriber information available on request to designated members of the law enforcement community and CSIS. Timely access to this information is essential in the fight against crime, especially crimes committed over the Internet such as online fraud, identity theft and child sexual exploitation.
At the moment, there is no federal legislation specifically designed to allow for obtaining basic subscriber information, identifiers that are often crucial in the early stages of an investigation. As a result, when this information is required, the police face a patchwork of responses from service providers across the country. Some companies release this information readily while others demand a warrant.
Without this basic information, police often reach a dead end as they are unable to obtain enough information to pursue an investigative lead or obtain a warrant. However, I would like to emphasize that provisions for access to information have actually been tightened under this bill to ensure Canadians' privacy and human rights. These safeguards include mandatory record keeping, internal audits and external oversight and the limited designation of law enforcement and CSIS officials who can even request such information.
Without Bill C-47, unscrupulous con artists can continue to defraud unsuspecting Internet users responding to email scams. Child abusers and pornographers will anonymously exploit Internet chat rooms, luring young victims away from their homes and into harm's way. Having worked as a police officer for almost 19 years, I did spend an awful lot of time in the child abuse unit and I speak personally to the frustration of Canadian police officers who have been unable to access information to solve or prevent child abuse atrocities.
I have also seen drug traffickers who tempt youth into addiction because law enforcement agencies cannot gather the necessary evidence to put them in jail. Without this bill and the proposed enhancements, child abusers and drug traffickers may continue untraced. Dangerous kidnappers and murderers will escape detection because their whereabouts remain untraceable. That is why we need this act and why we need to act now.
This is a crucial piece of legislation required to make our families, homes and communities safer. For this reason, I urge hon. members in the House from all parties to give Bill C-47 swift passage so that Canadian police officers and CSIS agents can get on with their jobs of creating a safer country for all of us.