Checking the Numbers Behind BC CareCard Fraud

Image by ivers

On January 7, 2013, the British Columbia government (re)announced that the province’s new identity card, the BC Services Card, would be arriving on February 15, 2013. To date, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia has not released her analysis of the Services Card. To date, the provincial government has been particularly recalcitrant in releasing any information about the cards short of press releases. Though members of civil society are concerned about the card it remains unclear whether they can mobilize to effectively delay or stop the card: indeed, this lack of capacity is something that is explicitly recognized in government documents that were released by ICBC.

This will be the first of a few posts on the proposed Services Card. In aggregate, the posts will examine pragmatic (e.g. fraud, security, biometric privacy) and principled (access to information problems, lack of democratic discussion surrounding the cards, secret usage of citizens’ data, function creep) criticisms of the Services Card. This particular post examines the government’s misleading claims surrounding CareCard fraud. Specifically, I interrogate the government’s assertion that there are many more CareCards in circulation than there are residents and statements that fraud presently costs the province $260 million/year or more. I conclude by stating that the government ought to clearly tell citizens what is driving the cards, given that the primary driver is almost certainly not medical fraud.

Continue reading

Canadian Social Media Surveillance: Today and Tomorrow

Image by Maureen Flynn-Burhoe

After disappearing for an extended period of time – to the point that the Globe and Mail reported that the legislation was dead – the federal government’s lawful access legislation is back on the agenda. In response to the Globe and Mail’s piece, the Public Safety Minister stated that the government was not shelving the legislation and, in response to the Minister’s statements, Open Media renewed the campaign against the bill. What remains to be seen is just how ‘lively’ this agenda item really is; it’s unclear whether the legislation remains on a back burner or if the government is truly taking it up.

While the politics of lawful access have been taken up by other parties, I’ve been pouring through articles and ATIP requests related to existing and future policing powers in Canada. In this post I first (quickly) outline communications penetration in Canada, with a focus on how social media services are used. This will underscore just how widely Canadians use digitally-mediated communications systems and, by extension, how many Canadians may be affected by lawful access powers. I then draw from publicly accessible sources to outline how authorities presently monitor social media. Next, I turn to documents that have been released through federal access to information laws to explicate how the government envisions the ‘nuts and bolts’ of their lawful access legislation. This post concludes with a brief discussion of the kind of oversight that is most appropriate for the powers that the government is seeking.

Continue reading

Announcement: Lawful Access Report Now Available

SpiesLast year the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) approached me to prepare a report around forthcoming lawful access legislation. Specifically, I was to look outside of Canada to understand how lawful access powers had been developed and used in foreign jurisdictions. An early version of that research report was provided to the BCCLA mid-last year and was used to support their recent, formal, report on lawful access legislation. The BCCLA’s formal report, “Moving Towards a Surveillance Society: Proposals to Expand “Lawful Access” in Canada” (.pdf) provides an excellent, in-depth, analysis of lawful access that accounts for some of the technical, social, and legal problems associated with the legislation.

Today I am releasing my report for the BCCLA, titled “Lawful Access and Data Preservation/Retention: Present Practices, Ongoing Harm, and Future Canadian Policies” (.pdf link). I would hasten to note that all research and proposals in my report should be attributed to me, and do not necessarily reflect the BCCLA’s own positions. Nothing in my report has been changed at the suggestion or insistence of the BCCLA; it is presented to you as it was to the BCCLA, though with slight updates to reflect the status of the current majority government.

In the report, I look to the United Kingdom and United States to understand how they have instantiated lawful access-style powers, the regularity of the powers’ usage, and how the powers have been abused. I ultimately conclude by providing a series of proposals to rein in the worst of lawful access legislation, which includes process-based suggestions (e.g. Parliamentary hearings on the legislation) and more gritty auditing requirements (e.g. a specific series of data points that should be collected and made public on a yearly basis).  It’s my hope that this document will elucidate some of the harms that are often bandied about when speaking of lawful access-powers. To this end, there are specific examples of harms throughout the document, all of which are referenced, with the conclusion being that citizens are not necessarily safer as a result of expanded security and intelligence powers that come at the cost of basic charter, constitutional, and human rights.

Download .pdf version of “Lawful Access and Data Preservation/Retention: Present Practices, Ongoing Harm, and Future Canadian Policies

Canadian Sovereignty Online – one year later

internet down :(  Last year a group of academics, technologists, and members of the public sent a public letter (.pdf) to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and Canadian Parliament. The letter raised concerns in light of the US government’s unilateral pre-trial domain seizures. Specifically, we asked that these institutions develop a plan by December 31, 2011 that would ensure that Canadians would retain a right to self-determination when it comes to digital policy; we wanted these bodies to plan how to limit the harms generated by US domain seizures of web properties.

To date we have not formally heard from any of these institutions. Unfortunately, domain seizures and US digital imperialism has gotten worse, not better, in the interim. In response, a group of us associated with Digital Policy Canada have prepared another public letter for CIRA’s Canadian Internet Forum. It is titled, “Canadian Sovereignty Online – one year later,” (.pdf) and in the letter we argue that Canadian domains could be seized by the American government on copyright infringement grounds, even if a Canadian were legally (under Canadian law) making content available.

To achieve digital autonomy – and thus defend Canada’s sovereign rights – we believe that CIRA should embark not only on policy development, but also technical development of tools that can protect Canadian interests when they are challenged. We also believe that CIRA should invest in educational processes to raise awareness about the threats and challenges facing the contemporary Internet and DNS ecosystem. Such a three-pronged effort would entrench and support national self-determination surrounding sovereign digital policy actions, while also educating Canadians about digital sovereignty. In aggregate, these efforts will serve to protect Canada’s long-term cultural, economic, and political interests, and we maintain that the means of doing so are within CIRA’s organizational mandate.

Click here to download a full copy of the public letter (.pdf)

The Anatomy of Lawful Access Phone Records

ACL 2006 - Phonebook  Canadian advocates, government officials, and scholars are all concerned about the forthcoming lawful access legislation. A key shared concern is that authorities could, under the legislation, access telecommunications subscription records without court oversight. Moreover, as a condition of accessing these records businesses might be served with gag orders. Such orders would prevent Canadians from ever knowing (outside of court!) that the government had collected large swathes of information about them. In response to concerns aired in public, the Public Safety Minister has insisted that the legislation would merely let police access “phone book” information from telecommunications providers.

I maintain that such assertions obfuscate the sheer amount of information contained in the records that authorities would collect. The aim of this post is to make clear just how much information is contained in a single lawful access “phone record”, demonstrating that the government is seeking information that grossly exceeds what is contained in the white or yellow pages today. As a result, I first provide an example phone record that resembles those in every phonebook in Canada and then offer an example of a lawful access record. Remember that such requests may be filed to multiple service providers (e.g. Internet service provider, web forum hosts, blogs, mobile phone companies, etc) and thus a swathe of records can be combined to generate a comprehensive picture of any particular individual. By the conclusion of the post it should be evident that information provided under lawful access powers is more expansive than the phone records government ministers allude to and lay bare those ministers’ technical obfuscations.

Continue reading

Letter to Stephen Harper on Lawful Access Legislation

SurveillanceFor the past several years, public advocates, academics, the privacy commissioners of Canada, and members of the Canadian Parliament have all voiced concerns about proposed lawful access legislation. There are generally three types of ‘powers’ associated with such legislation: (1) enhanced search and seizure provisions; (2) increased interception of privacy communications powers; (3) production of subscriber data. During the last election cycle, Stephen Harper assured Canadians that within 100 sitting days lawful access provisions would be passed, along with other legislation, in an omnibus crime bill. Lawful access legislation has not been fully debated in the House or Senate, and has significant implications for the future of anonymity and privacy on the Internet, while simultaneously expanding police powers without a clearly demonstrated need to expand such powers.

Working from the most recent lawful access bills, which died when the last election was called, advocates and academics have come together to send a letter of concerns to Prime Minister Harper. Our concerns are as follows:

  1. The ease by which Canadians’ Internet service providers, social networks, and even their handsets and cars will be turned into tools to spy on their activities further to production and preservation orders in former Bill C‐51 – a form of spying that is bound to have serious chilling effects on online activity and communications, implicating fundamental rights and freedoms
  2. The minimal and inadequate amount of external oversight in place to ensure that the powers allotted in these bills are not abused
  3. Clause 16 of former Bill C‐52, which will allow law enforcement to force identification of anonymous online Internet users, even where there is no reason to suspect the information will be useful to any investigation and without adequate court oversight and
  4. The manner in which former Bill C‐52 paves the way to categorical secrecy orders that will further obscure how the sweeping powers granted in it are used and that are reminiscent of elements of the USA PATRIOT Act that were found unconstitutional.

On a final note, we object that Canadians will be asked to foot the bill for all this, in what essentially amounts to a hidden e‐surveillance tax, and are concerned that compliance will further impede the ability of smaller telecommunications service providers to compete in Canada by saddling them with disproportionate costs.

It is of critical import that the lawful access provisions of the omnibus crime bill are shaved off into their own batch of legislation and are afforded their own debates and hearings. Failing to do otherwise would underplay how much the bills’ massive expansions of surveillance capacities might impact the Internet in Canada, and digital communications in this country more generally. If you want to learn more about the concerns listed above, you can read the full letter that was sent to the PMO (.pdf), and you can take action by voicing your concerns at the Stop Online Spying website. Sign the petition located there and then contact your MP: it is only by demonstrating public interest and concern in these bills that they might be clarified, reformed, and potentially prevented from being brought forward in the first place.