Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

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Tag: policy (page 1 of 3)

Draft: Do Transparency Reports Matter for Public Policy?

TransparancyTelecommunications 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.

Abstract:

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)

A National ID Card By Stealth? The BC Services Card – Privacy Risks, Opportunities & Alternatives

2013-National-ID-Card-by-Stealth-coverThe policies, politics, and technologies associated with Canadian identity documents and their surrounding data architectures are incredibly important issues because of their capacities to reconfigure the state’s relationship with its residents. The most recent such system, the BC Services Card, is designed to expand digital service delivery options that are provided to residents of British Columbia by the provincial government and by corporations. The government, to date, remains uncertain about what services will be associated with the Card. It also remains uncertain about how data linked to the Card’s usage will be subsequently be data mined, though promises that such mining efforts will be exciting and respective of people’s privacy.

Vague statements and broad policy potentials are the very things that make people concerned about identity systems, especially systems that are untested, expensive, and designed with unclear intentions, objectives, or benchmarks.

To try and unpack the policy issues associated with the Services Card, Dr. Kate Milberry and I have written a report wherein we suggest that the Services Card may operate as a kind of ‘proto Pan-Canadian’ identity card. Specifically, the Card is designed to be massively interoperable with other province’s (similar) identity document systems as well as with the federal government’s digital delivery service. Similarly, the Card is meant to interoperate with private businesses’ services. To this end, the lead vendor for the project, SecureKey, has already secured telecommunications and financial organizations as key service delivery partners.

The Services Card isn’t necessary good nor evil. But it is a system that has received little public attention, little external technical scrutiny, and even less external policy critique. The province of British Columbia, and indeed residents of other provinces that are taking up the SecureKey offering, need to be properly consulted on the appropriateness, desirability, and feasibility of the Services Card architecture. To date, this has not been performed in British Columbia nor by the Government of Canada. The document that Dr. Milberry and I have written is meant to contribute to the (limited) public discussion. Hopefully the provincial and federal governments pay attention.

Funding for this report was secured by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), and provided for through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The text in the report is reflective of the BCCLA’s position towards the Services Card; the report does not, however, necessarily reflect the position of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The executive summary, and download link, of  the report follows.

Executive Summary

For the last several years, British Columbia has been developing the technical infrastructure and legal framework for a comprehensive integrated identity system as part of its “technology and transformation” approach to governance. Otherwise known as “Government 2.0” or e-government, this approach will aggregate the personal information of citizens in order to link and share this data across government bodies. The BC Services Card is the latest in a series of major information technology projects that is part of the Government 2.0 mandate. It is a mandatory provincial ID card that enables access to a range of government services, beginning with health care and driver licencing. The BC Services Card is a key element of unprecedented changes in the way the province collects, accesses and shares personal information, including highly sensitive health information, amongst departments, agencies and even private contractors.

The card is just part of BC’s wide-ranging vision for integrated identity and information management—a vision that scales and interoperates on a federal level. Indeed, the system is not only envisioned to extend to other provinces, in essence forming a pan-Canadian identity architecture, but the ID card is expressly intended to provide authentication conducted by the private sector and facilitation of commercial transactions governed by PIPEDA and applicable provincial private sector privacy legislation. The importance of developments with the BC card for national identity management cannot be overstated: the BC Services Card model is interoperable with the federal system, and thus a (proto) Canadian ID card, and is also meant to be used for commercial and e-commerce transactions. Thus, developments in BC have critically important implications for ID systems provincially and federally, and involve both the public and private sector.

This report examines the normative, technical and policy implications of the BC Services Card and the federal and commercial implications of the technical systems underlying the Services Card. Throughout the report, the ID system is examined from the perspectives of security, privacy and civil liberties, and generally echoes the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC’s call for broad and meaningful public consultation before Phase II of the card program is implemented. Emergent from the analysis of the Services Card is a call for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to work with provincial privacy commissioners to issue a joint resolution on the applicable privacy and security standards for the provincial systems on the basis that they will ultimately compose the national federated system. The report concludes with provincial and federal recommendations for designing an identity system that is secure, privacy-protective, trusted and fit for purpose.

Download: A National ID Card By Stealth? The BC Services Card – Privacy Risks, Opportunities & Alternatives

Deep Packet Inspection and Consumer Transparency

Image by David Clow

Rogers Communications modified their packet inspection systems last year, and ever since customers have experienced degraded download speeds. It’s not that random users happen to be complaining about an (effectively) non-problem: Rogers’ own outreach staff has confirmed that the modifications took place and that these changes have negatively impacted peer to peer (P2P) and non-P2P applications alike. Since then, a Rogers Communications senior-vice president, Ken Englehart, has suggested that any problems customers have run into are resultant of P2P applications themselves; no mention is made of whether or how Rogers’ throttling systems have affected non-P2P traffic.

In this brief post, I want to quickly refresh readers on the changes that Rogers Communications made to their systems last year, and also note some of the problems that have subsequently arisen. Following this, I take up what Mr. Englehart recently stated in the media about Rogers’ throttling mechanisms. I conclude by noting that Rogers is likely in compliance with the CRTC’s transparency requirements (or at least soon will be), but that such requirements are ill suited to inform the typical consumer.

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Rogers, Network Failures, and Third-Party Oversight

Photo credit: Faramarz HashemiDeep packet inspection (DPI) is a form of network surveillance and control that will remain in Canadian networks for the foreseeable future. It operates by examining data packets, determining their likely application-of-origin, and then delaying, prioritizing, or otherwise mediating the content and delivery of the packets. Ostensibly, ISPs have inserted it into their network architectures to manage congestion, mitigate unprofitable capital investment, and enhance billing regimes. These same companies routinely run tests of DPI systems to better nuance the algorithmic identification and mediation of data packets. These tests are used to evaluate algorithmic enhancements of system productivity and efficiency at microlevels prior to rolling new policies out to the entire network.

Such tests are not publicly broadcast, nor are customers notified when ISPs update their DPI devices’ long-term policies. While notification must be provided to various bodies when material changes are made to the network, non-material changes can typically be deployed quietly. Few notice when a deployment of significant scale happens…unless it goes wrong. Based on user-reports in the DSLreports forums it appears that one of Rogers’ recent policy updates was poorly tested and then massively deployed. The ill effects of this deployment are still unresolved, over sixty days later.

In this post, I first detail issues facing Rogers customers, drawing heavily from forum threads at DSLreports. I then suggest that this incident demonstrates multiple failings around DPI governance: a failure to properly evaluate analysis and throttling policies; a failure to significantly acknowledge problems arising from DPI misconfiguration; a failure to proactively alleviate inconveniences of accidental throttling. Large ISPs’ abilities to modify data transit and discrimination conditions is problematic because it increases the risks faced by innovators and developers who cannot predict future data discrimination policies. Such increased risks threaten the overall generative nature of the ends of the Internet. To alleviate some of these risks a trusted third-party should be established. This party would monitor how ISPs themselves govern data traffic and alert citizens and regulators if ISPs discriminate against ‘non-problematic’ traffic types or violate their own terms of service. I ultimately suggest that an independent, though associated, branch of the CRTC that is responsible for watching over ISPs could improve trust between Canadians and the CRTC and between customers and their ISPs.

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