We don’t have lawful access (that’s internet spying to you and me) legislation in Canada, and for a number of reasons we really don’t need it. There’s no telling that to the Harper government, but everything I’ve ever read by smart and reasonable people on the subject suggests that our existing laws should take care of pretty much everything.
But aside from that, there’s another reason we don’t need it. Our telecommunications companies appear to already be handing over our information by the truckload.
Every 27 seconds. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month. Canadian telecommunications providers, who collect massive amounts of data about their subscribers, are asked to disclose basic subscriber information to Canadian law enforcement agencies every 27 seconds. In 2011, that added up to 1,193,630 requests. Given the volume, most likely do not involve a warrant or court oversight (2010 RCMP data showed 94% of requests involving customer name and address information was provided voluntarily without a warrant).
In most warrantless cases, the telecommunications companies were entitled to say no. The law says that telecom companies and Internet providers may disclose personal information without a warrant as part of a lawful investigation or they can withhold the information until law enforcement has obtained a warrant. According to newly released information, three telecom providers alone disclosed information from 785,000 customer accounts in 2011, suggesting that the actual totals were much higher. Moreover, virtually all providers sought compensation for complying with the requests.
These stunning disclosures, which were released by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, comes directly from the telecom industry after years of keeping their disclosure practices shielded from public view. In fact, the industry was reluctant to provide the information to even the Privacy Commissioner.
That’s our beloved telecom sector, fighting for its customers at every turn.
And of course it gets worse.
If Bill C-13 (that’s the internet spying bill to you and me) ever does become law, Bell, Rogers and the like will be able to keep right on trucking along, but with the added benefit of both criminal and civil immunity. In short, they can get paid to turn over everything they know about you warrant or not, and good luck suing them even if law or no law what they’re doing is probably unconstitutional.
And if you think it can’t possibly get any worse than that, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.
One further issue that should not be lost within the disclosure is the stunning admission that at least one Canadian provider may be allowing the government to mirror or copy of its subscriber communications. In response to a question on the use of deep packet inspection, one provider states:
“Interception of communications over data networks is accomplished by sending what is essentially a mirror image of the packet data as it transmits the network of data nodes. This packet data is then sent directly to the agency who has obtained lawful access to the information. Deep packet inspection is then performed by the law enforcement agency for their purposes.”
In short, holy crap, the authorities have direct, unchallenged access to everything you’re doing and it’s not even technically legal for them to have that yet!
I’d say we need to overwelmingly vote the Conservatives out of office next year (we do), but that probably won’t fix this. As the NSA saga in America has shown, massively overbroad spying and abuses of the public trust aren’t governed by party lines.