BCCLA urges Parliament to put a 24-hour limit on warrantless wiretaps

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The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights yesterday to demand changes to Bill C-55, which will allow emergency warrantless wiretaps of unlimited duration. The BCCLA urged Parliament to limit emergency warrantless wiretapping by the police to a 24-hour period.

In April 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down as unconstitutional a section of the Criminal Code concerning warrantless wiretapping. Parliament is now considering how to make that section (s. 184.4) compliant with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Warrantless wiretaps are intended to deal with situations where there is such urgency that the police do not have time to go through the normal steps to obtain a warrant and the wiretap is immediately necessary to prevent serious harm.

Raji Mangat, Counsel at the BCCLA: “A wiretap captures all communications taking place on the tapped device, including any and all manner of private, personal and possibly even privileged, confidential communications. Sweeping powers that intrude on the privacy rights of individuals must be appropriately limited by the law. We understand that in very narrow circumstances, the police may need to act immediately to stop serious and imminent harm. However, it is all the more important that this extraordinary power not be used indefinitely where no warrant is required. A 24-hour limit on the use of the warrantless wiretap will give the police clear guidance about how they can use this power appropriately.”

The new bill is intended to address the problems identified by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said that the police are allowed to use warrantless wiretaps in truly urgent situations, but that the use of the wiretap without after-the-fact notice to the person being recorded is unconstitutional. In response, Bill C-55 introduces new notice and reporting requirements that bring the section in line with other wiretapping provisions in the Criminal Code. The warrantless wiretapping section is a unique provision in the Criminal Code, and one of only two sections that allow the state to listen in on private communications without a specific time limit and without approval from a judge.

“The Criminal Code already has provisions regulating the use of wiretaps. We want to ensure that special emergency warrantless wiretapping powers are used for emergencies only and that the police apply for a standard warrant within 24 hours of using this power.”

BCCLA statement >>