Why Has Bell Remained Silent on Its Subscriber Information Disclosure Practices?

07/25/2014 05:13 EDT | Updated 09/24/2014 05:59 EDT
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Signage is displayed outside of a BCE Inc. Bell Canada store in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. BCE Inc., Canada?s second-largest wireless carrier, topped second-quarter profit estimates and increased its annual forecast after adding more smartphone subscribers on lucrative long-term contracts. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court of Canada's Spencer decision, several leading Canadian ISPs have publicly announced that they have changed their practices on the disclosure of subscriber information (including basic subscriber information such as name and address) to law enforcement. For example, Rogers announced that it will now require a warrant or court order prior to disclosing information to law enforcement except in emergency situations. Telus advised that it has adopted a similar practice and TekSavvy indicated that that has long been its approach. SaskTel says that it will release name, address, and phone number.

Unlike its competitors, Bell has remained largely silent in recent weeks. In media reports, the company says little more than that it follows the law. In fact, the Toronto Star's Alex Boutilier tweets that the company is now declining to respond to journalist inquiries about the issue. In the past, the company was a clear supporter of disclosing "pre-warrant" information in some circumstances to law enforcement. As detailed in this Canadian Bar Association article:

Under the auspices of the Canadian Coalition Against Internet Child Exploitation ("CCAICE"), certain Canadian ISPs, including Bell Canada, developed in conjunction with certain Canadian law enforcement agencies ("LEAs"), in particular the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre ("NCECC"), a process to handle law enforcement requests of certain limited customer information. A participating ISP, in response to an agreed upon template letter of request, will disclose to the requesting LEA the last known name and address of the account holder that was using a particular IP address at a specific date and time. These requests are made in non-emergency situations and in the absence of a court order [my emphasis added].

The article explains why this policy of disclosing information linking name, address, and IP address may have passed legal muster before the Spencer decision. Post-Spencer, a change is surely in order. Bell owes it to its customer to publicly disclose its current policy.

*This blog originally appeared on Michael Geist's website.