As the Bill C-30 saga rolls along, another issue has come up that is well worth examining: cost.
According to reports by Public Safety Canada, the cost of the online surveillance bill – also known as the lawful access bill – will run a tab of over $80 million. Breaking it down, it looks like the bill will cost $20 million per year for the first four years of implementation. After that, it will cost $6.7 million per year. It is unclear if the aforementioned tab represents the only costs associated with the proposed legislation.
“We want to make sure the government is fully aware of all the costs and that they fully compensate all the costs,” said Bernard Lord, president of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. “We feel it’s really [parliamentarians’] job to decide what should be in the bill and companies will comply. But we want to make sure that parliamentarians and government realize that if they adopt this bill, these costs are attached to it.”
Bill C-30 effectively forces Internet and telecommunications companies to collect consumer information. It also forces the companies to set-up the equipment, be it software or other implements, themselves. The cost here will inevitably be passed down to the average Canadian, whether through raised prices from the ISPs or from taxes.
If we compare Canada’s potential lawful access situation with Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), the United States’ version of lawful access, the picture gets even more depressing.
CALEA was passed in 1994 under the Bill Clinton administration. It requires America’s telecommunications companies to “enhance” the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance through the use of equipment and facilities with built-in surveillance capabilities.
According to blogger Christopher Parsons, the FBI initially stated that CALEA would cost around $500 million. The upgrades aren’t complete yet, thanks in large part to the always-changing technology (the implementation of surveillance equipment to deal with VoIP and broadband Internet was not part of the initial estimates), and the costs are already expected to climb well over $1 billion. There’s also the matter of data storage cost, which could run up quite a tab.
Of course, the U. S. government is effectively paying the private sector to carry out its surveillance and that has proven quite profitable for some companies. “In the U. S., interceptions have become a business model, so there are cases where large telecommunications companies have set up entire branches where 200 employees sit in a room, and all they do is assist law enforcement with interception and monitor requests, but they make money on every request that comes in,” says Parsons.