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Canadians may soon be faced with a 25 cent surcharge on their monthly telephone and Internet bills to cover the growing cost of telephone taps.

The snooping tax has been proposed by at least one police chief as a way of settling a row between police and telcos over who should pay for electronic surveillance. Canadian cops say they shouldn't have to pay for court-approved wiretaps. “From our perspective, it's a very slippery slope to start paying for the execution of search warrants or any kind of a court order,” Superintendent Tom Grue, a member of the law amendments committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Globe and Mail.

Telcos argue that ISPs and law enforcement agencies should split costs, rather than asking subscribers to stump up. Payment practices vary across Canada. The cost of wiretaps can vary between modest sums to thousands of dollars and it's unclear how much this surveillance costs. Nonetheless, Supt. Grue reckons slapping a small amount on everyone’s monthly telephone, cellular or Internet bill would be about right. “We're thinking, amongst ourselves, 25 cents. Whether that would cover off all the costs, we don't know. We haven't done the analysis on it,” he said.

Supt. Grue, an officer in the Edmonton police force, compared the proposed fee to levy Canadian consumers pay to support 911 emergency services (between 25 to 50 cents a month).

Tom Copeland, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, said if consumers were paying for surveillance directly they would likely “demand a great deal more explanation” about the wiretapping program and how it affects their constitutional and privacy rights. But if police and ISPs share the bill then users will end up paying another way.

The issue will probably be decided by Canadian politicians. Under federal proposals, Canadian telcos are been required to make systems upgrades "wiretap-friendly". ®

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