Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Month: November 2013

A National ID Card By Stealth? The BC Services Card – Privacy Risks, Opportunities & Alternatives

2013-National-ID-Card-by-Stealth-coverThe policies, politics, and technologies associated with Canadian identity documents and their surrounding data architectures are incredibly important issues because of their capacities to reconfigure the state’s relationship with its residents. The most recent such system, the BC Services Card, is designed to expand digital service delivery options that are provided to residents of British Columbia by the provincial government and by corporations. The government, to date, remains uncertain about what services will be associated with the Card. It also remains uncertain about how data linked to the Card’s usage will be subsequently be data mined, though promises that such mining efforts will be exciting and respective of people’s privacy.

Vague statements and broad policy potentials are the very things that make people concerned about identity systems, especially systems that are untested, expensive, and designed with unclear intentions, objectives, or benchmarks.

To try and unpack the policy issues associated with the Services Card, Dr. Kate Milberry and I have written a report wherein we suggest that the Services Card may operate as a kind of ‘proto Pan-Canadian’ identity card. Specifically, the Card is designed to be massively interoperable with other province’s (similar) identity document systems as well as with the federal government’s digital delivery service. Similarly, the Card is meant to interoperate with private businesses’ services. To this end, the lead vendor for the project, SecureKey, has already secured telecommunications and financial organizations as key service delivery partners.

The Services Card isn’t necessary good nor evil. But it is a system that has received little public attention, little external technical scrutiny, and even less external policy critique. The province of British Columbia, and indeed residents of other provinces that are taking up the SecureKey offering, need to be properly consulted on the appropriateness, desirability, and feasibility of the Services Card architecture. To date, this has not been performed in British Columbia nor by the Government of Canada. The document that Dr. Milberry and I have written is meant to contribute to the (limited) public discussion. Hopefully the provincial and federal governments pay attention.

Funding for this report was secured by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), and provided for through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The text in the report is reflective of the BCCLA’s position towards the Services Card; the report does not, however, necessarily reflect the position of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The executive summary, and download link, of  the report follows.

Executive Summary

For the last several years, British Columbia has been developing the technical infrastructure and legal framework for a comprehensive integrated identity system as part of its “technology and transformation” approach to governance. Otherwise known as “Government 2.0” or e-government, this approach will aggregate the personal information of citizens in order to link and share this data across government bodies. The BC Services Card is the latest in a series of major information technology projects that is part of the Government 2.0 mandate. It is a mandatory provincial ID card that enables access to a range of government services, beginning with health care and driver licencing. The BC Services Card is a key element of unprecedented changes in the way the province collects, accesses and shares personal information, including highly sensitive health information, amongst departments, agencies and even private contractors.

The card is just part of BC’s wide-ranging vision for integrated identity and information management—a vision that scales and interoperates on a federal level. Indeed, the system is not only envisioned to extend to other provinces, in essence forming a pan-Canadian identity architecture, but the ID card is expressly intended to provide authentication conducted by the private sector and facilitation of commercial transactions governed by PIPEDA and applicable provincial private sector privacy legislation. The importance of developments with the BC card for national identity management cannot be overstated: the BC Services Card model is interoperable with the federal system, and thus a (proto) Canadian ID card, and is also meant to be used for commercial and e-commerce transactions. Thus, developments in BC have critically important implications for ID systems provincially and federally, and involve both the public and private sector.

This report examines the normative, technical and policy implications of the BC Services Card and the federal and commercial implications of the technical systems underlying the Services Card. Throughout the report, the ID system is examined from the perspectives of security, privacy and civil liberties, and generally echoes the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC’s call for broad and meaningful public consultation before Phase II of the card program is implemented. Emergent from the analysis of the Services Card is a call for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to work with provincial privacy commissioners to issue a joint resolution on the applicable privacy and security standards for the provincial systems on the basis that they will ultimately compose the national federated system. The report concludes with provincial and federal recommendations for designing an identity system that is secure, privacy-protective, trusted and fit for purpose.

Download: A National ID Card By Stealth? The BC Services Card – Privacy Risks, Opportunities & Alternatives

The Politics of Deep Packet Inspection: What Drives Surveillance by Internet Service Providers?

UVic CrestToday, I am happy to make my completed doctoral dissertation available to the public. The dissertation examines what drives, and hinders, wireline network practices that are enabled by Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) routers. Such routers are in wide use by Internet service providers (ISPs) in Canada, the United States, and United Kingdom, and offer the theoretical capacity for service providers to intrusively monitor, mediate, and modify their subscribers’ data packets in real or near-real time. Given the potential uses of the routers, I was specifically interested in how the politics of deep packet inspection intersected with the following issues: network management practices, content control and copyright, advertising, and national security/policing.

Based on the potential capabilities of deep packet inspection technologies – and the warnings that such technologies could herald the ‘end of the Internet’ as it is know by citizens of the West – I explored what has actually driven the uptake of the technology in Canada, the US, and the UK. I ultimately found that though there were variations in different states’ regulatory processes, regulators tended to arrive at common conclusions. Regulatory convergence stands in opposition to the divergence that arose as elected officials entered into the DPI debates: such officials have been guided by domestic politics, and tended to reach significantly different conclusions. In effect, while high-expertise regulatory networks reached common conclusions, elected political officials have demonstrated varying degrees of technical expertise and instead have focused on the politics of communications surveillance. In addition to regulators and elected officials, court systems have also been involved in adjudicating how, when, and under what conditions DPI can be used to mediate data traffic. Effectively, government institutions have served as the primary arenas in which DPI issues are taken up, though the involved government actors often exhibited their own interests in how issues were to be taken up or resolved. The relative role of these different state bodies in the case studies arguably reflects underlying political cultures: whereas regulators are principally involved in the Canadian situation, elected officials and courts play a significant role in the US, whereas the UK has principally seen DPI debates settled by regulators and elected officials.

Ultimately, while there are important comparative public policy conclusions to the dissertation, such conclusions only paint part of the picture about the politics of deep packet inspection. The final chapter of the dissertation discusses why the concepts of surveillance and privacy are helpful, but ultimately insufficient, to appreciate the democratic significance of deep packet inspection equipment. In response, I suggest that deliberative democratic theory can provide useful normative critiques of DPI-based packet inspection. Moreover, these critiques can result in practical policy proposals that can defray DPI-based practices capable of detrimentally stunting discourse between citizens using the Internet for communications. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how this research can be advanced in the future; while I have sought to clear away some of the murk concerning the technology, my research represents only the first of many steps to reorient Internet policies such that they support, as opposed to threaten, democratic values.

Formal Abstract:

Surveillance on the Internet today extends beyond collecting intelligence at the layer of the Web: major telecommunications companies use technologies to monitor, mediate, and modify data traffic in real time. Such companies functionally represent communicative bottlenecks through which online actions must pass before reaching the global Internet and are thus perfectly positioned to develop rich profiles of their subscribers and modify what they read, do, or say online. And some companies have sought to do just that. A key technology, deep packet inspection (DPI), facilitates such practices.

In the course of evaluating the practices, regulations, and politics that have driven DPI in Canada, the US, and UK it has become evident that the adoption of DPI tends to be dependent on socio-political and economic conditions. Simply put, market or governmental demand is often a prerequisite for the technology’s adoption by ISPs. However, the existence of such demand is no indication of the success of such technologies; regulatory or political advocacy can lead to the restriction or ejection of particular DPI-related practices.

The dissertation proceeds by first outlining how DPI functions and then what has driven its adoption in Canada, the US, and UK. Three conceptual frameworks, path dependency, international governance, and domestic framing, are used to explain whether power structures embedded into technological systems themselves, international standards bodies, or domestic politics are principally responsible for the adoption or resistance to the technology in each nation. After exploring how DPI has arisen as an issue in the respective states I argue that though domestic conditions have principally driven DPI’s adoption, and though the domestic methods of governing DPI and its associated practices have varied across cases, the outcomes of such governance are often quite similar. More broadly, I argue that while the technology and its associated practices constitute surveillance and can infringe upon individuals’ privacy, the debates around DPI must more expansively consider how DPI raises existential risks to deliberative democratic states. I conclude by offering some suggestions on defraying the risks DPI poses to such states.

Download ‘The Politics of Deep Packet Inspection: What Drives Surveillance by Internet Service Providers?’ (.pdf)