Canada's police chiefs want a new law that would force people to hand over their electronic passwords with a judge's consent.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has passed a resolution calling for the legal measure to unlock digital evidence, saying criminals increasingly use encryption to hide illicit activities.
There is nothing currently in Canadian law that would compel someone to provide a password to police during an investigation, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Joe Oliver told a news conference Tuesday.
Oliver said criminals — from child abusers to mobsters — are operating online in almost complete anonymity with the help of tools that mask identities and messages, a phenomenon police call "going dark."
"The victims in the digital space are real," Oliver said. "Canada's law and policing capabilities must keep pace with the evolution of technology."
The police chiefs' resolution comes as the federal government begins a consultation on cybersecurity that will look at issues including the best way to balance online freedoms with the needs of police. The consultation runs until Oct. 15.
Police demands for access to online communications and the concerns of civil libertarians about privacy rights have created tensions around the globe in recent years.
The issue came to fore last year when the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation went to court in a bid to crack the password of a terror suspect's iPhone following a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.
Oliver said Canadian police also continue to seek a means of more easily obtaining basic information about telecommunication subscribers, such as name and address, to help advance investigations beyond an early stage.
In June 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled police must have a judge's authorization to obtain customer data linked to online activities.
The high court rejected the notion the federal privacy law governing companies allowed them to hand over subscriber identities voluntarily.
Police say telecommunication companies and other service providers — such as banks and rental firms — now demand court approval for nearly all types of requests from authorities for basic identifying information.