Mr. Speaker, I am happy for the opportunity to rise today to oppose the motion put forward by the NDP member for Terrebonne—Blainville.
Public awareness of electronic surveillance practices has grown exponentially over the past few years. It is not all surprising that public concern about the balance between privacy and national security in the Internet age has also grown. It is a public policy challenge that all G7 countries must face. Our government certainly understands the concerns that have been raised by the media, by the official opposition, and indeed by the Privacy Commissioner.
We certainly welcome the work of the Privacy Commissioner in this regard, but it is vital that the debate on this issue be an informed one based on facts and grounded in a better understanding of how and when electronic surveillance practices and requests for basic subscriber information are employed. Due to the myths, misinformation, and fallacies put forward by the opposition, this is something that has been sorely lacking in this debate. I view this motion as an opportunity to set the record straight in these areas and to reassure all Canadians that our government always strikes an appropriate balance between giving law enforcement officials the tools they need to do their job and protecting the privacy of law-abiding Canadians.
Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure. Robust safeguards exist to ensure that this basic right is followed. Indeed, with respect to domestic laws and policies governing how electronic surveillance and requests for basic subscriber information are used, Canada has a proud tradition of getting the balance between privacy and security right. Nevertheless, the recent debate has highlighted areas of concern among the Canadian public about how government is effectively balancing their security and their safety and whether law enforcement and intelligence agencies are acting responsibly as they carry out their duties.
It is worthwhile for us to step back just a minute and first make a very important distinction between law enforcement and intelligence agencies' requests to telecommunications providers for basic subscriber information and obtaining other types of data that can be used more appropriately considered electronic surveillance, such as intercepted communications or stored emails. I want to assure all members of the House and Canadians alike that these two things should be viewed in a completely different light for they serve very different, yet vital purposes for law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
First, it is worth noting that the vast majority of information that law enforcement agencies seek from telecommunications providers is for basic subscriber information, for example, someone's name, address, phone number, and IP address. To be clear, basic subscriber information is not about tracking people's telephone calls. Absolutely no content of the communication is revealed. Basic subscriber information is also not a request for all telecommunications data, for example, data that would indicate who was contacted, the duration of the communication, and other related information such as the where, when, and how of the communication.
A couple of important points must be made about this. The first is that this information is oftentimes obtained at the beginning of an investigation into serious offences and is crucial to clearing people from wrongdoing or helping police determine viable leads. An example, for an online exploitation case, police may only have the Internet protocol or IP address attached to a picture found on the Internet and would need to determine who the IP address belongs to in order to begin their investigation.
In short, this information is critical to help police establish the identity of the person and it can be sought without a warrant. This is true for other countries as well. In fact, not one G7 country in the world requires a warrant to obtain this information. Imagine the enormous burden this would place on the justice system for the limited, yet often vital information that can be obtained. Vital because warrants generally require police to know the identity of the person, exactly what basic subscriber information is supposed to reveal.
It is only after receiving this initial information that police may seek court authorization to obtain more sensitive information, such as private communications, or to rule out the person from further investigation.
As a former RCMP member with over 18 years' experience, I can say that this information plays a key role in modern investigations of these types of cases. My constituents understand this and are supportive of tools that help us catch criminals. In fact, a poll conducted for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in January 2013 found that three-quarters of Canadians are very comfortable or somewhat comfortable with the idea of law enforcement agencies requiring telecommunications service providers to disclose personal information to gather evidence in the investigation of a serious crime.
Moving on to the ability to intercept communications, which is what we are really referring to when we talk about electronic surveillance, this ability is a critical tool for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to keep Canadians safe, whether it be from credible national security threats or major crimes. Indeed, these agencies cannot intercept communications or obtain transmission data without being authorized to do so by law. These investigative tools can only be used with a warrant, court authorization, or other lawful authority to target specific individuals in the course of a specific investigation. Furthermore, the grounds for such targeting and the rationale for which individuals are to be targeted are subject to vigorous judicial oversight. Such safeguards, enshrined in our laws, are only some of the safeguards of which Canadians should never lose sight.
The judicial authorization is required to· obtain communications because our laws say that this type of information has a high expectation of privacy. For example, a judge's authorization must be obtained for real time interception of communications. The requirement for a judge's authorization also applies to access to stored data, such as texts or email stored on a server. This is all set out in the Criminal Code and other statutes.
I want there to be no doubt, Canadians' communications are not regularly accessed without a warrant. It is simply against the law, both for regular citizens and for our law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Also, additional safeguards do exist. Those whose private communications were intercepted in the course of a law enforcement investigation must be notified that interception was done. Further, full disclosure of information that law enforcement gathered is also required for cases that proceed to trial.
Now that I have provided some accurate context and information about the safeguards that are in place, I would like to conclude by acknowledging the calls we have heard about public transparency and reporting. Indeed, we are already disclosing some figures through Public Safety Canada's annual report on the use of electronic surveillance.
Our Conservative government will always work to give police the tools they need to do their job and ensure that our streets and communities are kept safe. That is why we have passed over 30 measures to keep criminals behind bars where they belong. We will not apologize for that and we will take no lessons on this matter from the opposition.