Consumers will foot bill for Net spooks
ISPs: Proposed legislation could require providers to monitor any Internet communications
Ottowa Citizen | August 26 2005
Internet providers such as Bell Sympatico and Rogers say consumers might have to foot the bill for the cost of implementing the federal government's controversial new proposals for police interception of Internet communications.
Last week, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler unveiled plans to present a legislative package to cabinet this fall that would require Internet service providers to put all Internet communications, including chat rooms, e-mails, text messages and Internet telephony, under surveillance at the request of law-enforcement agencies who obtain a court order. Police can already use court orders to request Internet communication, but service providers are not required to monitor the Internet, often leaving gaps in the data available to authorities.
The legislation would require all service providers to create the technical capability to intercept every point of Internet communication. Providers say the cost of such a sweeping surveillance system might be passed onto consumers.
"We are concerned about the cost. That's always been the biggest issue," said David Elder, a vice-president at Bell and chair of a committee on the legislation for the Canadian Association of Internet Providers. "We don't want to have artificially higher rates to accommodate this lawful-access capability."
The controversial proposals include an exception to allow law enforcement agencies to obtain, without a court order, "tombstone data," which reveals anonymous Internet subscribers' names, contact information and addresses.
Critics say the surveillance system would slow innovation of new communications tools because they would have to be fit with an interception capability; such a system is also said to open up channels of private Internet communications to potential breaches by hackers.
A ruling by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission this month introduced a similar legal obligation for American Internet service providers. Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in California, a public interest group on technology and the law, said the irony of the situation is that Internet users might end up paying for surveillance of themselves.
"The consumer is going to end up paying for less innovation, less privacy and less security -- for putting in place the technology that enables Big Brother," he said.
Operational costs will include processing the warrants and putting together real-time communication feeds for authorities, which Jay Kerr-Wilson, a vice-president at the Canadian Cable Telecommunications Association, representing Rogers and other cable companies, said he hopes to see paid for by the government.
However, Mr. Kerr-Wilson said there is the more expensive cost of building the surveillance infrastructure, which would be halved if it can be done over several years as systems are upgraded.
"If they said, by January 2007 you have to completely implement all of the lawful access capabilities into your networks, it would be a horrendous cost. It would be millions and millions for the Canadian industry."
Mr. Kerr-Wilson estimated that if a small service provider with about 10,000 Internet subscribers had to buy the equipment today, it would have to spend $500,000 to implement the technology. For a company such as Rogers, the cost "would be in the multiple millions."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety said the government would expect service providers to incur costs as they upgrade their networks "over time" and "without an undue burden."
The proposals are expected to exempt service providers with fewer than 100,000 subscribers from the costs, which will be covered by the government