We need a new wiretapping law, eh

“All of our legal architecture is founded on the notion that telecommunications intercepts involved putting bugs in walls or hooking interception devices to pairs of copper wires.”

Sound like a familiar complaint? It should, if you’ve been following the debate to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But this quote comes from one of our neighbors to the north.

Jack Hooper, a former deputy director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service—basically, their CIA—says that the nation’s wiretapping law is outdated, and that it’s inhibiting Canadian intelligence’s ability to monitor suspects abroad.

In something of a twist on the U.S. debate, a Canadian Federal Court judged ruled that a number of suspects CSIS wanted to monitor were enough of a threat to bug in Canada, the court had no authority to order a wiretap of Canadian citizens abroad.

According to the Globe & Mail, whose Colin Freeze (btw, how cool is that name?), interviewed Hooper, “Counterterrorism agencies have spent years hoping to run wiretaps against Canadian suspects who live abroad. Yet a lingering loophole means the spies continue to go ‘blind and deaf’ whenever Canadian targets board outbound planes.”

“Technically we can do it, but legally we can’t,” Hooper says.

Listen to all the parallels between the Canadians’ conundrum and the Americans’.

Mr. Hooper argued that the country’s spying laws are legacies of an analog age, hampering investigations in an era of mobile phones, the Internet, cheap jet travel and so-called “homegrown” terrorist threats.

“God forbid. If something really bad happens, the question will be asked: ‘What were you doing with this guy when he was in Country X?'” he said. “And we’ll say ‘Well we could have covered him, but we were proscribed by law.’ “

Canada’s equivalent of the National Security Agency apparently can lend a hand sorting through signals intelligence to domestic law enforcement agencies. As long as the intel was obtained legally, the cooperation is allowed. As the Globe & Mail reports, CSIS’ attempt to get a warrant for overseas surveillance “was an attempt to further marry the sister agencies’ capabilities.”