Currently, there is no law that requires telecommunications service providers to use a particular system or standard that permits communications to be intercepted. Law enforcement agencies want to be able to intercept an individual’s email or other communication, see who sent it and received it. *  They want to know what type of file was transmitted and what the content of the email or other communication was. They also want to be able to track the web pages the individual visited.

But because there is no particular technical standard the telecommunications companies and internet service providers are required by law to meet, law enforcement agencies say that sometimes these types of interceptions are not technically easy to do. Essentially, they want the internet service providers to be required by law to enable the interception and surveillance by building specific types of systems into their networks. This type of law is referred to as a “lawful access” law.

There have been many efforts by lawmakers to pass laws to make it easier for police to intercept communications over the internet. Police and intelligence agencies claim that new technologies, and the growing complexity of telecommunications networks, often present obstacles to the lawful interception of communications because they can enable criminals to operate in ways that cannot be readily detected.

In fact, existing laws are enough to allow law enforcement agencies to intercept communications transmitted by new technologies. Passing a law that makes telecommunications companies build their systems to meet technical standards that are specifically designed to enable surveillance will make these private businesses agents of the state. This is inconsistent with a free and democratic society. As well, many argue that there is little evidence in support of the need for this type of new law, or that it actually helps fight terrorism or organized crime.

It is expected that new proposed “lawful access” legislation may be introduced by the federal government before the end of 2009.

* Subscriber information, including name, IP address, email address, telephone number, cell phone number and unique number associated with the cellphone, is the information that generally is sought by these proposed laws.