At the organization’s annual news conference on the 16th of August, The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) passed a resolution that calls for a law allowing the police to force people to provide law enforcement with their computer passwords.
CTV spoke with RCMP Assistant Commissioner Joe Oliver after the conference where he explained that under current Canadian laws, the police have no way to legally compel users to hand over passwords. The resolution passed by the CACP is part of an effort to allow law enforcement to catch up with the digital age. “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 resolution was intentionally passed during a time when the federal government began a study on cybersecurity to find a way to balance online freedoms with the police’s ability to enforce the law. The study will run until the 15th of October.
As pointed out by Motherboard, the CACP posted a report on “the challenges of gathering electronic evidence” as a backboard for the resolution, implying that the decision is influenced by recent events such as Apple’s refusal to unlock an iPhone for the FBI.
Oliver told CTV that since police tensions are being raised around the globe, new measures are being sought out to make their job easier. One example of this is CACP pushing for police to be able to easily obtain information from cellphone carriers, such as names and addresses of subscribers in real-time.
Although the invasive ruling would require permission from a judge before an individual would need to provide law enforcement with his password, advocates for civil liberties have expressed their explicit disapproval.
Michael Vonn, policy director for the BC Civil Liberties Association, when questioned by journalists gave a further explanation. “To say this is deeply problematic is to understate the matter,” he said. “We have all kinds of laws that do not compel people to incriminate themselves or even speak.”
Since Canada has laws in place to allow people to keep their privacy through silence and choose not to reveal any information, Vonn says the resolution’s proposed law would not fit in Canada’s legal landscape. It would be “tricky constitutionally,” he added.
A lawyer for the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa questions whether or not the proposal would be constitutional. “It’s rare to force people to help police investigate themselves, and for good reason,” Tamir Israel writes. “It shifts the focus of criminal condemnation away from actual criminal activity and onto compliance. So if an individual legitimately objects to handing over their password, that alone makes them criminal.”
Vonn added that while this is what the Chiefs of Police do, the law should not be in violation of people’s civil liberties.