The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
News

How Do Telecoms Share Data with Government? They Won't Say

Companies claim they protect privacy, but aren't big on specifics, researcher finds.

By Bob Mackin 8 Mar 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

image atom
'We don't know specifically what ISPs are legally permitted to tell Canadians and what they have chosen not to.' File photo via Shutterstock.

Canada's biggest telecom companies spend tens of millions of dollars to promote their unlimited talk and text plans and high-speed Internet, but they clam up when asked about sharing customers' information with the prying eyes of government.

That is what University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow Christopher Parsons found when 16 companies were asked for their policies and procedures. All but six companies responded, and none answered all of Parsons' questions about how they reveal subscribers' information to federal agencies.

"I had hoped there would be a little bit more clarity, I'm disappointed but perhaps not surprised," Parsons said. "We don't know specifically what ISPs are legally permitted to tell Canadians and what they have chosen not to."

In his report "The Murky State of Canadian Telecommunications Surveillance," Parsons found that most companies claimed they were committed to protecting subscribers' privacy, but few were specific about how they achieve that goal.

The report was conducted as the Conservatives' Bill C-13 winds its way through Parliament. Privacy and civil liberties advocates worry that the so-called Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act is a rehash of the failed Bill C-30 because it makes it easier for police to gain information without a warrant.

Telus, a ray of sunshine?

Letters were sent to telecoms on Jan. 20 from the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs with a March 3 deadline for reply. The companies that replied were generally evasive and did not identify how or why responding to questions would interfere with investigations or threaten national security. Bell Canada, Bell Aliant, Cogeco, Telus and Videotron did not say how long they retain subscribers' data.

"In all cases, companies justified their refusals on grounds of confidentiality of investigative techniques or because of national security concerns," said Parsons' report. "Many companies also asserted that they were ill-suited to provide any response because the companies (e.g. Bell Canada) 'are not in a good position to balance the competing principles and interests triggered by detailed public disclosures about the volume and nature of lawful access requests.'"

Telus chief compliance and privacy officer Heather Hawley's letter mentioned the company had difficulties with warrants to access text messages and Bell Canada senior counsel and privacy ombudsman Bill Abbott wrote that an internal law enforcement group, including a lawyer and ombudsperson, vets government requests for subscribers' data.

Telus was singled out as an exception, because it wrote that the company would "request the government to clarify and limit the scope of current confidentiality requirements and to consider measures to facilitate greater transparency."

"Telus's letter is cause for heart," Parsons said. "While they didn't provide the hard data we were looking for, they do commit to trying to get information from government about what they can and cannot disclose. I see that as a ray of sunshine in a sea of gloom."

Who didn't respond?

Parsons noted that Rogers' response didn't indicate the company's concern for privacy or that it requires a warrant to trigger disclosure of customer information to law enforcement.

In his letter, Rogers' regulatory vice-president and chief privacy officer Kenneth Engelhart cited Standard 17 of Public Safety Canada's Solicitor Generals Enforcement Standards, which prohibits wireless service providers from disclosing lawful intercept practices.

"You may want to consider making your request to the various government agencies directly," Engelhart wrote. "As you may also be aware, the federal Privacy Commissioner recently recommended to Parliament that government agencies proactively provide public reporting on lawful access and intercept requests and disclosures."

The six companies that did not respond by deadline were Fido Solutions, Wind Mobile, Primus, Sasktel, TekSavvy Solutions and Xplorenet Communications.

Last August, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. federal authorities arranged with Qwest Communications International to intercept email and text messages in and out of Salt Lake City before and during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Telus did not respond to The Tyee for comment about whether it was involved in a similar practice during the Vancouver Games. Bell, the Games' sponsor, said it only provides information to police under a court order. Communications Security Establishment Canada denied it was involved in such a surveillance operation for Vancouver 2010.  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll