Magnotta Case Used to Sell Canadian Surveillance Legislation – Memo’s

Newly found memo’s suggest that the Minister for Public Safety Vic Teows was trying to use the Luka Rocco Magnotta case to sell the controversial online surveillance legislation. The revelations aren’t entirely a surprise, but what is surprise is that, after all this time, no one seems to be any closer to linking the murder and the need for this kind of online surveillance.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

It was a high profile murder that made big headlines in Canada last month. A gruesome tale of Magnotta dismembering Jun Lin and mailing his body parts to political offices and more. After Magnotta was apprehended and brought back to Canada to face justice, questions were being raised about how he could have been apprehended faster. Were there mistakes involved? Could anything be done to improve the time between a gore video being posted on a gore website and apprehending him?

From the beginning, many were pointing to the fact that Magnotta had been posting the killing of various animals and posting them online. Complaints were sent to police, but no action was take until after Magnotta murdered Jun Lin. At some point, the Canadian media called take down of the website that hosted the video in the first place. What exactly that would solve given the apparent numerous alternative websites was never really answered.

Then, days later, the Conservative government tried to use the case as something that the surveillance legislation would solve. Again, how that would have caught this individual any faster was never really answered. Of course, I think it’s always an indictment on the government when they look for a problem, then, instead of finding ways on fixing the problem, simply use the problem as a launching pad to try and push laws that crack down on civil liberties all the while never actually solving the original problem in the first place. I digress of course.

Now, memo’s are surfacing that pretty much re-iterated that the Magnotta was indirectly used to sell the Canadian online surveillance legislation. From the CBC:

Under the heading: “Could Bill C-30 have helped locate [suspect] Luka Rocco Magnotta earlier?” two memorandums decline to comment on specifics of the investigation because it is continuing, but go on to say the bill “would provide police with tools that could prove useful in similar cases.”

“Bill C-30 would give authorities quicker, more reliable access to electronic information that can help catch criminals faster, which would be especially useful in cases where the suspect intends to flee or seriously harm another individual,” it reads.

The documents, released to CBC News Network’s Power & Politics under access to information, also say:

– C-30 would require telecommunications service providers (TSP) to provide basic subscriber information such as internet protocol (IP) addresses, which could provide useful to reveal the identity of someone who posts a video or social media comment online.

– The bill would also allow police to immediately request the suspect’s TSP to preserve the suspect’s computer data for up to 21 days to give authorities time to obtain a warrant to access potentially useful electronic evidence.

– And it would provide a single warrant application process for multiple investigative techniques — such as tracking — related to a single investigation involving interceptions; in cases where speed is critical, going to a single judge for all the warrants would help reduce delays while maintaining the highest standard of judicial scrutiny.

The problem I see here is that none of the above would have led to the apprehension of Magnotta any faster. This person was already reported to police even before he murdered a person. If the police don’t have enough money and resources to have people on their staff to track down individuals like this in the first place, what good does this information do in terms of apprehending this individual any faster? It sounds to me that the authorities, when the initial reports were sent to them, that there were other cases that deserve priority over the Magnotta video’s prior to the Lin murder. Maybe it’s a man power issue. Maybe it’s a resource management issue. Either way, I still don’t see how there is a connection between catching suspects like Magnotta and the surveillance legislation when I’m sure there are other, more efficient ways of helping police catch suspects like Magnotta.

In my opinion, the surveillance legislation not only opens the door to abuse, but also encourage criminals to do a better job at concealing their tracks online. Just look at the notes obtained by the CBC. One of the key pieces of evidence the legislation seeks to obtain is the suspects IP address. Perfect, that’s easy enough to conceal. Steal someone elses Wi-Fi connection because that’ll pin the IP address to someone else. Use a proxy or VPN. That’ll conceal the IP address. You can see how this kind of legislation is a problem. What’s more is that this kind of online surveillance could arguably either be an infringement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or a step in that direction. Just take a look at the following line in the Canadian Charter:

8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

Even if such legislation doesn’t infringe on this or other rights in the Charter, I think it would be very hard to argue that it doesn’t tread on thin ice.

It’s also one thing to say that there will be judicial oversight, but it’s entirely another to say whether or not each case will get an adequate amount of time for proper examination of the facts. If a judge is given ten minutes and a stack of 200 pages on the case, can you reasonably tell me that judge, no matter how good he or she is, will be able to properly decipher whether or not to grant a wiretap and more? I’m not familiar with what kind of mechanisms would be in place to ensure a proper review of the facts before surveillance is given.

Also, ISPs being required to record the activities of their users and hold it in the event a court order is filed against any one individual using their networks is something I would say raises a whole host of additional questions. What’s to stop major rights holders from demanding access to that information anyway?

There are so many questions the surveillance legislation raises and I don’t think the Magnotta case does anything to answer any of them. I also don’t think the Magnotta case really highlights any reason to pass the surveillance legislation either. There wasn’t any connection when these notions raised by Teows initially and we aren’t any closer to making the connection today.

(Hat tip: Michael Geist)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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