BUSINESS

Julian Assange: Canada Supreme Court, ISPs Doing The Right Thing On Privacy

09/22/2014 09:14 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:04 EDT
Hannah Peters via Getty Images
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Julian Assange appears on screen to discuss the revelations about New Zealand's mass surveillance at Auckland Town Hall on September 15, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand. The general election in New Zealand will be held this weekend, on 20 September 2014. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has praised the Supreme Court of Canada and Canadian Internet providers for pushing back against warrantless searches of telecom subscriber data.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Assange said moves by Rogers and Telus to release their first-ever transparency reports this year are a step in the right direction. Transparency reports reveal how many requests for subscriber data the government has made to a given company. Bell is the only one of the big three telecoms not to have released one so far.

“There is a standard slowly starting to develop among the service providers that want to be seen as credible and trustworthy,” Assange said, noting that Rogers has said it will no longer hand over subscriber data without a warrant.

The ISPs enacted their new policy following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in June stating that law enforcement authorities must get a warrant to request subscriber data, even basic subscriber details such as name and address.

However, a recent report in the Star reveals that police are still making requests for subscriber data without a warrant, though the number of requests has dropped significantly.

Rogers’ transparency report revealed the government made nearly 175,000 requests for subscriber data to the company last year, or about 480 per day. Telus’ transparency report, released last week, found the company got 103,500 requests last year, or about 283 per day.

Government documents released under access to information laws earlier this year estimated that the government makes about 1.2 million such requests every year.

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Given the volume of requests, the Supreme Court ruling may have left agencies scrambling to set up new procedures, perhaps explaining why warrantless requests continue to be made.

Documents suggest the warrantless handover of data may have been automated at some ISPs. One government document refers to retrieving data from the “Bell law enforcement database.” Bell has not released a transparency report.

Assange says automated processes for handing over data are common and Internet providers should also reveal their existence.

“There is an obligation on ISPs to have mass interception equipment,” he told the Star. ISPs “could say ‘this is what is installed, and this is what it is collecting.’”

The Supreme Court’s ruling throws into question the legality of two pieces of legislation currently being pushed by the Harper government, including the so-called Digital Privacy Act, which expands the ability of governments and private companies to share subscriber data without a warrant.

The Senate passed the bill last spring, days after the Supreme Court ruling against warrantless transfer of data.

The ruling could also have implications for Bill C-13, the Tories’ anti-cyberbullying bill, which among other things provides immunity to telecoms for handing over data without a warrant.