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.