Canadian Police Want Law Forcing Suspects to Turn Over Passwords

Published: August 26, 2016 3:30 PM /


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Law enforcement and politicians around the world have been pushing for legislation to fight back against encryption. Police consider it a road block that prevents them from obtaining evidence against criminals. While the most common proposal is to force tech companies to cripple their own encryption with backdoors, Canadian police have come up with a different proposal to deal with encryption. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has passed a resolution which calls for a law that would force people to turn over their digital passwords if served with a court order.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Joe Oliver spoke at a news conference and explained that there is currently no Canadian law that would force individuals to turn over their passwords to police during an investigation. Oliver raises the concern that child abusers and mobsters are operating online behind the shield of encryption, and police have no way of gathering evidence on them. "The victims in the digital space are real," Oliver said. "Canada's law and policing capabilities must keep pace with the evolution of technology."

The proposal has drawn criticism from the activist group OpenMedia. David Christopher, a spokesman for the group criticized the proposal by saying, "What we’re seeing here unfortunately with the proposal that the Canadian police chiefs came out with last week seems very much like a desire to throw away many if not all of those checks and balances and simply give the police carte blanche to go through somebody’s digital device." He also called the proposal "dangerous" and stated that it "undermines basic democratic rights here in Canada." However, he did conclude that even if the government were to pass such a law, it would likely be found unconstitutional by the courts, because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms offers protection against self-incrimination.

In addition to the demand for passwords, the police chiefs' proposal also seeks to make it easier to obtain telecom subscriber data such as names and addresses, in order to link anonymous online activity to a person's real identity. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that police must get a judge's approval in order obtain subscriber data. The court rejected the notion that telecoms could voluntarily hand over personal data of subscribers to police without a court order, since that would violate federal privacy law.

This proposal comes at a time when the federal government is holding a public consultation on cybersecurity. The government is seeking advice on numerous topics related to cybersecurity such as online policing and protecting against cybercrime. The consultation is also looking for information on the economic significance of cyber security and is looking for ways to protect critical infrastructure. Both Canadians and non-Canadians are invited to give their feedback. The consultation runs until October 15.

Should people be required to hand over passwords if served with a court order, or would that violate their right to avoid self-incrimination? Leave your comments below.

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| Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.