Touring the digital through type

Tag: academic

Government Surveillance Accountability: The Failures of Contemporary Interception Reports

Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

Over the past several years I’ve undertaken research exploring how, how often, and for what reasons governments in Canada access telecommunications data. As one facet of this line of research I worked with Dr. Adam Molnar to understand the regularity at which policing agencies across Canada have sought, and obtained, warrants to lawfully engage in real-time electronic surveillance. Such data is particularly important given the regularity at which Canadian law enforcement agencies call for new powers; how effective are historical methods of capturing communications data? How useful are the statistics which are tabled by governments? We answer these questions in a paper published with the Canadian Journal of Law and Technology, entitled ‘Government Surveillance Accountability: The Failures of Contemporary Canadian Interception Reports.” The abstract, follows, as do links to the Canadian interception reports upon which we based our findings.

Abstract:

Real time electronic government surveillance is recognized as amongst the most intrusive types of government activity upon private citizens’ lives. There are usually stringent warranting practices that must be met prior to law enforcement or security agencies engaging in such domestic surveillance. In Canada, federal and provincial governments must report annually on these practices when they are conducted by law enforcement or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, disclosing how often such warrants are sought and granted, the types of crimes such surveillance is directed towards, and the efficacy of such surveillance in being used as evidence and securing convictions.

This article draws on an empirical examination of federal and provincial electronic surveillance reports in Canada to examine the usefulness of Canadian governments’ annual electronic surveillance reports for legislators and external stakeholders alike to hold the government to account. It explores whether there are primary gaps in accountability, such as where there are no legislative requirements to produce records to legislators or external stakeholders. It also examines the extent to which secondary gaps exist, such as where there is a failure of legislative compliance or ambiguity related to that compliance.

We find that extensive secondary gaps undermine legislators’ abilities to hold government to account and weaken capacities for external stakeholders to understand and demand justification for government surveillance activities. In particular, these gaps arise from the failure to annually table reports, in divergent formatting of reports between jurisdictions, and in the deficient narrative explanations accompanying the tabled electronic surveillance reports. The chronic nature of these gaps leads us to argue that there are policy failures emergent from the discretion granted to government Ministers and failures to deliberately establish conditions that would ensure governmental accountability. Unless these deficiencies are corrected, accountability reporting as a public policy instrument threatens to advance a veneer of political legitimacy at the expense of maintaining fulsome democratic safeguards to secure the freedoms associated with liberal democratic political systems. We ultimately propose a series of policy proposals which, if adopted, should ensure that government accountability reporting is both substantial and effective as a policy instrument to monitor and review the efficacy of real-time electronic surveillance in Canada.

Canadian Electronic Surveillance Reports

Alberta

British Columbia

Government of Canada

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland

Nova Scotia

Ontario

Quebec

Saskatchewan

The (In)effectiveness of Voluntarily Produced Transparency Reports

Payphones by Christopher Parsons (All Rights Reserved)

I have a paper on telecommunications transparency reports which has been accepted for publication in Business and Society for later this year.

Centrally, the paper finds that companies will not necessarily produce easily comparable reports in relatively calm political waters and that, even should reports become comparable, they may conceal as much as they reveal. Using a model for evaluating transparency reporting used by Fung, Graham, and Weil in their 2007 book, Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promises of Transparency, I find that the reports issued by telecommunications companies are somewhat effective because they have led to changes in corporate behaviour and stakeholder interest, but have have been largely ineffective in prodding governments to behave more accountably. Moreover, reports issued by Canadian companies routinely omit how companies themselves are involved in facilitating government surveillance efforts when not legally required to do so. In effect, transparency reporting — even if comparable across industry partners — risks treating the symptom — the secrecy of surveillance — without getting to the cause — how surveillance is facilitated by firms themselves.

A pre-copyedited version of the paper, titled, “The (In)effectiveness of Voluntarily Produced Transparency Reports,” is available at the Social Sciences Research Network.

Canadian Transparency Publications

stack by hobvias sudoneighm (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/Fecq6

Academics, private companies, journalists, non-government organizations, and government agencies have all made significant contributions to the telecommunications transparency debate in Canada since the beginning of this year. This post briefly describes the most significant contributions along with links to the relevant publications.

Academic Transparency Publications

Several academic groups published reports addressing telecommunications privacy and transparency issues. The Telecom Transparency Project published “The Governance of Telecommunications Surveillance: How Opaque and Unaccountable Practices and Policies Threaten Canadians,” which explored how much telecommunications surveillance occurs in Canada, what actors enable the surveillance, to what degree those actors disclose their involvement in (and the magnitude of) surveillance, and what degree of oversight is given to the federal governments’ surveillance practices. Two other reports, “Keeping Internet Users in the Know or in the Dark: 2014 Report on Data Privacy Transparency of Canadian Internet Service Providers” and “The 3+3 Project: Evaluating Canada’s Wireless Carriers’ Data Privacy Transparency,” analyzed the privacy practices of major Canadian telecommunications providers. The former report evaluated the data privacy transparency of the most significant forty-three Internet carriers serving the Canadian public and ranked the carriers against ten questions. In contrast, the latter report used 10 criteria to evaluate Canada’s three largest wireless carriers and their extension brands to establish how transparent they were about their privacy practices and how they treated subscribers’ personal information.

Corporate Reports and Guidance

A trio of telecommunications companies also released transparency reports in the first half of 2015. WIND Mobile’s Mobile Transparency (2014) revealed a significant decrease in requests for customer name and address information, and a modest increase of emergency response requests combined with an explosion of court ordered/legislative demands requests. TELUS and Rogers also released transparency reports; overall TELUS’ report shows a small decrease in government requests whereas Rogers’ report shows a significant decrease of roughly 60,000 fewer requests. The relative merits of companies’ transparency reports were discussed in the Telecom Transparency Project’s report, mentioned previously. Industry Canada also released transparency reporting guidelines to “help private organizations be open with their customers, regarding the management and sharing of their personal information with government, while respecting the work of law enforcement, national security agencies, and regulatory authorities.” Some thoughts on those guidelines were published by Michael Geist as well as by the Telecom Transparency Project.

Government Investigations into Domestic Data Collection

During this time the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada also audited how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) collected and used subscriber data. This data was obtained from Canadian telecommunications companies. The Office found that, “the RCMP’s information management systems were not designed to identify files which contained warrantless access requests to subscriber information, we were unable to select a representative sample of files to review. Consequently, we were unable to assess the sufficiency of controls that may exist or if the collection of warrantless requests from TSPs was, or was not in compliance with the collection requirements of the Privacy Act.” The challenges experienced by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada were perhaps unsurprising, given that the RCMP stated in 2014 that they did not have a way of tracking subscriber data requests in response to questions from MP Charmaine Borg.

Signals Intelligence-Related Publications

There have also been a series of contributions that have focused prominently on Canada’s foreign signals intelligence organization, the Communications Security Establishment. Michael Geist’s edited collection, Law, Privacy and Surveillance in the Post-Snowden Era, contains nine contributions grouped into three parts: understanding surveillance in Canada, legal issues, and prospects for reform. In addition to Geist’s collection, two Canadian archives have been created to host Snowden documents. The first, “The Snowden Archives,” is hosted by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. The Snowden Archives contain approximately 400 documents and were compiled “to provide a tool that would facilitate citizen and researcher access to these important documents.” The second is the “Canadian SIGINT Summaries” which collate leaked documents that are exclusively linked to CSE’s operations. The SIGINT Summaries identify when the documents were created, provide a summary of the documents themselves, and also include metadata such as length, codenames, and news stories linked with the documents’ publication. Finally, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Globe and Mail have both published stories based on Snowden documents.

Summary

Overall, there has been an exceptional amount written on telecom transparency issues in Canada. Several transparency reports are expected later this year from Sasktel, MTS Allstream, and TekSavvy. And the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, though its Community Investment Program, is funding projects which will help Canadians request their personal information from public and private organizations alike as well as to help companies develop transparency reports. The coming months promise to continue being busy for transparency in Canada!

Photo Credit: stack by hobvias sudoneighm (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/Fecq6

This post first appeared at the Telecom Transparency Project website.

Call for Cyber-Surveillance Annotated Bibliographies

The New Transparency Project, as part of its international cyber-surveillance workshop, is issuing a call for annotated bibliographies around issues pertinent to their workshop. Again, given that issues concerning cyber-surveillance likely resonate with readers of this space, I wanted to alert you to this call. These bibliographies are meant to serve as a resource for those attending the May 12-15 workshop in 2011 at the University of Toronto. The deadline for submissions is September 15, 2010. Such submissions should be a maximum length of 500 words, and acceptance notifications will be issued by September 30, 2010. The authors (at least three) invited to prepare annotated bibliographies will each be paid $2000 (Cnd.) in two equal instalments. The first upon acceptance of the assignment, and the balance upon the bibliography’s satisfactory completion. The full call follows below:

Digitally Mediated Surveillance: From the Internet to Ubiquitous Computing

Digitally mediated surveillance (cyber-surveillance) is a growing and increasingly controversial aspect of every-day life in ‘advanced’ societies. Governments, corporations and even individuals are deploying digital techniques as diverse as social networking, video analytics, data-mining, wireless packet sniffing, RFID skimming, yet relatively little is known about actual practices and their implications. It is now over 15 years since the advent of the World Wide Web, and of widespread use of the Internet for electronic commerce, electronic government and social networking. The impending emergence of the ‘Internet of things’ promises (or threatens) to further insinuate digital surveillance capabilities into the fabric of daily life. Media alarmists have fueled a general popular understanding that one’s life is an open book when one goes online, making one increasingly subject to unwelcome intrusions. The reality is more complex and contingent on a variety of technological, institutional, legal and cultural factors.

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