As American telcoms operators take up the practice of publishing transparency reports showing how many law-enforcement requests they receive, Canadian activists are wondering why Canada's telcoms sector hasn't followed suit. Citizen Lab, whose excellent work at the University of Toronto is documented in lab leader Ron Deibert's must-read book Black Code, has issued public letters addressed to the nation's phone companies and ISPs, formally requesting that they publish aggregate statistics on law-enforcement requests.
Our call for telecommunications transparency is in line with actions taken in the United States, where politicians such as Representative Markey have successfully asked telecommunications service providers to explain the types of requests made by American state agencies for telecommunications data, the regularity of such requests, and the amounts of data disclosed. Moreover, American companies are developing more and more robust ‘transparency reports’ to clarify to their subscribers how often, and on what grounds, the companies disclose subscriber information to American state authorities. There is no reason why similar good practices cannot be instantiated in Canada as well.
Over the past decade, Canadians have repeatedly heard that law enforcement professionals and state security agents need enhanced access to telecommunications data in order to go about their jobs. And Canadians have read about how our own signals intelligence service, the Communications Security Establishment Canada, has been and continues to be involved in surveillance operations that ‘incidentally’ capture Canadians’ personal information. Despite these developments in Canada, there is not a substantially greater degree of actual transparency into how and why Canadian telecommunications service providers disclose information to agents of the Canadian government.
It is in light of this ongoing lack of transparency surrounding telecommunications providers’ disclosure of information to state authorities that we, a series of academics and civil rights groups, have issued public letters to many of Canada’s largest or most significant Internet and mobile communications providers. We hope that Canada’s telecommunications community will welcome these letters in the spirit they are intended: to make clearer to Canadians the specific conditions under which the Canadian government can and does access telecommunications information pertaining to Canadians, the regularity at which such access is granted, and the conditions under which telecommunications companies disclose information to state agencies.