Industry Canada has published guidelines for telecommunications companies to provide transparency reports. The guidelines are ostensibly meant to help companies that want to disclose the regularity, rationale, and extent of Canadian governmental requests for private telecommunications data. The guidelines may actually, however, establish government-sanctioned flaws in transparency reporting and prevent companies from meaningfully informing their customers about government telecommunications surveillance.
We begin this post by briefly summarizing the importance and value of transparency reporting and why Canadian companies should adopt and publish transparency reports. Second, we outline how Industry Canada’s guidelines may enhance transparency reporting. Third, we summarize the significant deficits linked to the guidelines and conclude by discussing how the guidelines could be improved to bring about meaningful and holistic corporate telecommunications transparency reporting.
Background to Transparency Reporting
We discussed the importance of transparency reporting in our recent report, “The Governance of Telecommunications Surveillance: How Opaque and Unaccountable Practices and Policies Threaten Canadians.” Transparency reporting involves companies publicly disclosing data that holds a public interest; telecommunications transparency reports are generally meant to provide complex information in an accessible and factual manner so that subscribers can subsequently make reasonable judgements based on the disclosures. Canadian telecommunications transparency reports have largely focused on policing and security issues to date, and have been released by Rogers, TELUS, Sasktel, TekSavvy, MTS Allstream, and Wind Mobile.
The Citizen Lab and the Telecom Transparency Project have actively encouraged telecommunications companies to release transparency reports. Together, these organizations have written public letters to telecommunications service providers, developed and launched a tool so that Canadians can learn about providers’ data retention and disclosure policies, conducted interviews concerning transparency and surveillance issues in Canada, and filed access to information and privacy requests to understand government surveillance practices. The result of our efforts to date are captured in a report that we released in June 2015, as are a series of recommendations for how members of the telecommunications industry could improve their transparency reports. In the following sections we examine the extent to which Industry Canada’s recently issued guidance aligns with our policy recommendations.
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Telecommunications transparency reports detail the frequency at which government agencies request information from telecommunications companies. Though American companies have been releasing these reports since 2009, it wasn’t until 2014 that Canadian companies began to follow suit. As part of my work at the Citizen Lab I’ve analyzed the Canadian reports against what makes an effective transparency report, with ‘effectiveness’ relating to achieving public policy goals as opposed to ‘having an effect’ in terms of generating media headlines.
Today I’m publishing a draft paper that summarizes my current analyses. The paper is titled, “Do Transparency Reports Matter for Public Policy? Evaluating the effectiveness of telecommunications transparency reports” and is available for download. I welcome feedback on what I’ve written and look forward to the conversations that it spurs in Canada and further abroad.
Telecommunications companies across Canada have begun to release transparency reports to explain what data the companies collect, what data they retain and for how long, and to whom that data is, or has been, disclosed to. This article evaluates the extent to which Canadian telecommunications companies’ transparency reports respond to a set of public policy goals set by civil society advocates, academics, and corporations, namely: of contextualizing information about government surveillance actions, of legitimizing the corporate disclosure of data about government-mandated surveillance actions, and of deflecting or responding to telecommunications subscribers’ concerns about how their data is shared between companies and the government. In effect, have the reports been effective in achieving the aforementioned goals or have they just had the effect of generating press attention?
After discussing the importance of transparency reports generally, and the specificities of the Canadian reports released in 2014, I argue that companies must standardize their reports across the industry and must also publish their lawful intercept handbooks for the reports to be more effective. Ultimately, citizens will only understand the full significance of the data published in telecommunications companies’ transparency when the current data contained in transparency reports is contextualized by the amount of data that each type of request can provide to government agencies and the corporate policies dictating the terms under which such requests are made and complied with.
Download Telecommunications Transparency in Canada 1.5 (Public Draft) (Alternate SSRN link)
The Government of Canada recently tabled Bill C-44, the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act, in response to a series of court defeats concerning how the Canadian Intelligence and Security Service (CSIS) collects intelligence about Canadian residents. The federal courts took CSIS to task after Justice Richard Mosley realized that warrants issued to CSIS, which enabled CSIS to collaborate with Canada’s foreign signal intelligence agency to monitor Canadians abroad, were also being used to enlist the assistance of other nations’ signals intelligence agencies. In addition to the warrants not being issued with such foreign collaboration in mind there was — and remains — a judicial belief that CSIS’ lawyers deliberately misled the court when requesting the warrants.
The tabled legislation would not alleviate the ruling that CSIS lawyers misled the court. It would, however, authorize CSIS to apply for warrants which authorize the service to monitor Canadians abroad even if doing so would violate the laws of foreign nations. Moreover, CSIS would be empowered to request the assistance of foreign organizations in monitoring the aforementioned Canadians. The Act would also provide the government the power to prevent courts from publicly examining informants as well as to revoke citizenship under certain situations. Finally, the legislation further clarifies (and arguably extends) prohibitions on revealing the identity of CSIS officers. Continue reading →
The significance of Edward Snowden’s disclosures is an oft-debated point; how important is the information that he released? And, equally important, what have been the implications of his revelations? Simon Davies, in association with the Institute of Information Law of the University of Amsterdam and Law, Science, Technology & Social Studies at the Vrie Universiteit of Brussels, has collaborated with international experts to respond to the second question in a report titled A Crisis of Accountability: A global analysis of the impact of the Snowden revelations.
In what follows, I first provide a narrative version of the report’s executive summary. The findings are sobering: while there has been a great deal of international activity following Snowden’s revelations, the tangible outcomes of that activity has been globally negligible. I then provide the text of the Canadian section of the report, which was drafted by Tamir Israel, myself, and Micheal Vonn. I conclude by providing both an embedded and downloadable version of the report.
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Lawful access legislation was recently (re)tabled by the Government of Canada in November 2013. This class of legislation enhances investigative and intelligence-gathering powers, typically by extending search and seizure provisions, communications interception capabilities, and subscriber data disclosure powers. The current proposed iteration of the Canadian legislation would offer tools to combat inappropriate disclosure of intimate images as well as extend more general lawful access provisions. One of the little-discussed elements of the legislation is that it will empower government authorities to covertly install, activate, monitor, and remove software designed to track Canadians’ location and ‘transmission data.’
In this post I begin by briefly discussing this class of government-used malicious surveillance software, which I refer to as ‘govware’. Next, I outline how Bill C–13 would authorize the use of govware. I conclude by raising questions about whether this legislation will lead government agencies to compete with one another, with some agencies finding and using security vulnerabilities, and others finding and fixing the vulnerabilities such tools rely. I also argue that a fulsome debate must be had about govware based on how it can broadly threaten Canadians’ digital security. Continue reading →
The issue of lawful access has repeatedly arisen on the Canadian federal agenda. Every time that the legislation has been introduced Canadians have opposed the notion of authorities gaining warrantless access to subscriber data, to the point where the most recent version of the lawful access legislation dropped this provision. It would seem, however, that the real motivation for dropping the provision may follow from the facts on the ground: Canadian authorities already routinely and massively collect subscriber data without significant pushback by Canada’s service providers. And whereas the prior iteration of the lawful access legislation (i.e. C–30) would have required authorities to report on their access to this data the current iteration of the legislation (i.e. C–13) lacks this accountability safeguard.
In March 2014, MP Charmaine Borg received responses from federal agencies (.pdf) concerning the agencies’ requests for subscriber-related information from telecommunications service providers (TSPs). Those responses demonstrate extensive and unaccountable federal government surveillance of Canadians. I begin this post by discussing the political significance of MP Borg’s questions and then proceed to granularly identify major findings from the federal agencies’ respective responses. After providing these empirical details and discussing their significance, I conclude by arguing that the ‘subscriber information loophole’ urgently needs to be closed and that federal agencies must be made accountable to their masters, the Canadian public.
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