Requests For Telecom Subscriber Data Average 1.13 Million Per Year, Docs Show

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scyther5 via Getty Images
scyther5 via Getty Images

Canadian government officials requested subscriber information from telecoms at least 1.13 million times per year between 2006 and 2008, according to documents obtained by e-commerce law expert Michael Geist.

The numbers, released to Geist by Public Safety Canada, almost exactly mirror estimates from an earlier release of government documents, which indicated some 1.2 million data requests per year, or nearly one request for every 30 Canadians, each year.

It suggests that there have been huge numbers of requests for years now taking place largely below the radar screen … without very much public awareness,” Geist told the Toronto Star.

By all accounts, many — if not a majority — of those requests were warrantless. A transparency report from Rogers, released last month, showed the telecom received nearly 175,000 requests for subscriber info last year, of which some 100,000 didn’t come with a court order.

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But that could all change, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling requiring all government requests for data, including basic subscriber info, to have a warrant.

Rogers and Telus, the second- and third-largest Canadian telecoms by revenue, announced last week they would no longer hand over data to the government without a warrant.

No word yet from Bell, Canada’s largest telecom, on whether it may follow suit. Documents from the Competition Bureau, made public earlier this year, made mention of a “Bell Canada law enforcement database,” suggesting that at least some telecoms had automated the process of handing over data without a warrant.

Canada’s privacy commissioner suggested that, in light of the Supreme Court ruling, the government revisit two bills it has in the works -- Bill S-4, or the “Digital Privacy Act,” and C-13, known as the anti-cyberbullying bill.

Critics say Bill C-13 would provide immunity to telecoms for handing over data without a warrant, while Bill S-4 would allow for greater warrantless sharing of data between corporations, in cases where a contract dispute or other legal matter is involved.

The government interprets the Supreme Court ruling differently. An Industry Canada spokesperson recently told HuffPost Canada that the government sees its proposed laws as constitutional, because the ruling did not strike down PIPEDA, Canada’s privacy law from 2001 that first allowed sharing of subscriber data without a warrant.

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