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Green leader slams Harper's proposed internet spying laws

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposed electronic surveillance laws will act as "an infringement on civil liberties," Green Party leader Elizabeth May said in a press release today.

The "Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act," which Prime Minister Harper has vowed to pass as part of a larger omnibus crime bill within 100 sitting days of convening parliament, would expand the federal government's internet surveillance powers.

“This proposed legislation has critical implications for data security," said May. “Folding these issues into a larger bill with no hearings is unacceptable."

The reforms in question, formerly introduced in the winter of 2010 as bills C-50, C-51, and C-52, would give Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies the power to seize the personal information of web users from internet service providers (ISPs) without a warrant. An additional provision would require ISPs to install surveillance equipment and software on their networks.

The internet advocacy group,, has released three PSA-style videos about this subject as part of their "Stop Spying" campaign.

As the law currently stands, ISPs may voluntarily provide personal client information to authorities, such as the client's name, unlisted telephone number, or physical or IP address -- but can only be compelled to do so with a warrant.

The Tyee published an article last May explaining the surveillance reform proposals in detail.

According to a fact-sheet published on the Department of Justice's website, current laws do not grant law enforcement authorities either the tools or the flexibility to thwart 21st century crime.

"Legislation must be modernized in order to keep pace with modern communications technology and give investigators the tools they need to perform complex investigations in today's high-tech world," reads the website.

"Canadian law enforcement obviously needs access to a certain amount of data in order to properly investigate crimes," concedes May. "But these bills push that access way over the top to a point where it becomes an infringement on civil liberties."

Other reforms to the criminal code to be included in the proposed omnibus bill include adding minimum sentences for certain drug-related and sexual convictions and extending the period during which a suspect can be held without charge to three days if the case is made that an act of terrorism can be foiled by doing so.

Ben Christopher reports for The Tyee.

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