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Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu speaks at a back-to-school road safety campaign press conference on Sept. 4, 2012.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver's police chief is urging the federal government to pass a controversial bill that would grant law enforcement agencies warrantless access to some identifying information of Canadian telecommunications users.

Chief Jim Chu, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said at a news conference in Vancouver on Friday police are handcuffed by outdated legislation dating back to "the days of the rotary telephone."

"We all know there has been a lot of talk lately about how we find online predators," he said. "Bill C-30 will modernize the criminal code so predators and other criminals will not be able to prey on children or other victims with impunity. If we stand by and do nothing, criminals will continue to exploit today's technologies to criminally harass and threaten others and commit frauds, scams and organized violent crimes with little fear of being caught."

Stephen Harper's Conservative government introduced the controversial bill in February as the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act – a name critics balked at. The legislation would legally require service providers to hand over a user's name, address, phone number, Internet protocol (IP) address and e-mail address to police if asked. Authorities would not be able to monitor web surfing habits or e-mail contents.

At the Friday news conference, Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke gave an example of a woman who was sexually assaulted in Vancouver. The woman managed to get the suspect's cellphone before he fled and detectives called the provider to ask for the owner's name, he said.

"They refused, without a warrant," Deputy Chief Lemcke said. "It took 13 days to get the information after that, and by that time, the suspect had left."

Opponents of the bill have called it warrantless spying and a violation of privacy and civil rights. They also note the information is more than just the "building blocks of an investigation," as Deputy Chief Lemcke calls it, as an IP address, for example, can be linked to other personal data.

Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, has also pointed out a provision in the bill that would allow service providers to voluntarily hand over personal content – such as web surfing habits or e-mail contents – if asked by police, without fear of liability.

Chief Chu acknowledged the concerns and stressed there are criminal sanctions for anyone who violates lawful access rules. Some wording in the bill also has to be clarified, he said.

"The way Section 34 is worded suggests that an inspector can search anything, including a Canadian's private information at a telecommunication provider's facility, to verify compliance with the act," he said. "It is easy to understand why some might conclude from such wording that inspectors would have unfettered access to Canadians' personal records when doing inspections.

"We recognize such inspections are required but the wording in Section 34 needs to be changed to assure Canadians that their personal information will never be part of that inspection."

Provincial and federal justice ministers are scheduled to meet on the bill next week.

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