On January 14, 2016, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that “tower dumps” – the mass release of data collected by cellphone towers at the request of law enforcement agencies – violate privacy rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In response, Justice Sproat outlined a series of guidelines for authorities to adhere to when requesting tower dump warrants in the future.
I wrote about this case for PEN Canada. I began by summarizing the issue of the case and then proceeded to outline some of the highlights of Justice Sproat’s decision. The conclusion of the article focuses on the limits of that decision: it does not promote statutory reporting of tower dumps and thus Canadians will not learn how often such requests are made; it does not require notifying those affected by tower dumps; it does not mean Canadians will know if data collected in a tower dump is used in a subsequent process against them. Finally, the guidelines are not precedent-setting and so do not represent binding obligations on authorities requesting the relevant production orders.
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Photo credit: cell tower next to the casita by dasroofless (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/rGxgj
Last week, Canadians learned that their foreign signals intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), had improperly shared information with their American, Australian, British, and New Zealand counterparts (collectively referred to as the “Five Eyes”). The exposure was unintentional: Techniques that CSE had developed to de-identify metadata with Canadians’ personal information failed to keep Canadians anonymous when juxtaposed with allies’ re-identification capabilities. Canadians recognize the hazards of such exposures given that lax information-sharing protocols with US agencies which previously contributed to the mistaken rendition and subsequent torture of a Canadian citizen in 2002.
Tamir Israel (of CIPPIC) and I wrote and article for Just Security following these revelations. We focused on the organization’s efforts, and failure, to suppress Canadians’ identity information that is collected as part of CSE’s ongoing intelligence activities and the broader implications of erroneous information sharing. Specifically, we focus on how such sharing can have dire life consequences for those who are inappropriately targeted as a result by Western allies and how such sharing has led to the torture of a Canadian citizen. We conclude by arguing that the collection and sharing of such information raises questions regarding the ongoing viability of the agency’s old-fashioned mandates that bifurcate Canadian and non-Canadian persons’ data in light of the integrated nature of contemporary communications systems and data exchanges with foreign partners.
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Tamir is staff lawyer with the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, where he conducts research and advocacy on various digital rights-related topics, with a focus on online privacy and anonymity, net neutrality, intellectual property, intermediary liability, spam, e-commerce, and consumer protection generally.
Dr. Christopher Parsons received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Guelph, and his Ph.D from the University of Victoria. He is currently the Managing Director of the Telecom Transparency Project and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Citizen Lab, in the Munk School of Global Affairs.
Photo credit: Spies by Kieran Lamb (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/416nVf