08/09/2013 12:14 EDT

Verizon Canada: NSA Could Get Canadians' Personal Info If Company Comes Here, CEP Says


One of Canada’s most prominent unions is warning that Verizon setting up shop north of the border could mean Canadians’ personal info ending up in the hands of the U.S. intelligence agencies.

But some analysts say Canadians’ data is already being shared with U.S. authorities at that country’s request, and Verizon would play by the same rules here as the other wireless companies.

The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) said Friday it’s concerned by news that Verizon sends data on millions of Americans’ emails daily to the NSA, under a secret court order that was revealed by the Guardian in June.

"It's long been accepted that there are privacy and national security concerns with foreign companies controlling Canada's telecommunications sector," CEP President Dave Coles said in a statement.

Coles said Verizon is so deeply connected to the U.S. military and national security infrastructure that there would be little leeway for the company to refuse if U.S. intelligence agencies asked for Canadians’ personal info.

"The company's core business is dependent on Federal Communications Commission regulations, it has billions of dollars in U.S. military contracts and Verizon is bound to comply with the USA Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," he said.

Amit Kaminer, an analyst with the technology consulting firm SeaBoard Group, dismissed the union’s concerns.

Canadian wireless providers open up their records when Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies ask them to, and Verizon would operate under similar conditions, Kaminer told HuffPost.

Canadian agencies already send intelligence on Canadians to the U.S. when their American partners ask them to; this would be no different, he said.

“The security agencies, military and law enforcement agencies are already intertwined well before Verizon would be here, we’ve been doing that for 50, 60 years,” he said. “So I don’t really see a real issue here.”

“This is definitely not a reason for preventing Verizon from coming to Canada.”

Canadians should be less concerned with having their data shared with U.S. authorities rather than with Russian officials, he added. Small wireless player Wind Mobile is owned by a Dutch company, VimpelCom, that is itself 40-per-cent owned by a Russian telecom investment firm, Altimo.

If there are risks, Kaminer said the federal government should “mitigate” them by passing Canadian laws and regulations that address those concerns.

In a case of strange bedfellows, the CEP finds itself on the same side of the argument as Canada’s Big Three telecoms. Bell, Rogers and Telus have launched a campaign to pressure the Conservative government into changing policies that would give Verizon — as a new entrant to Canada — special rights to wireless spectrum that the big local players don’t enjoy.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association's president, Bernard Lord, told HuffPost that his group isn’t opposed to foreign companies being allowed to enter the market but big foreign companies should not be allowed to bid on spectrum that the big incumbents can’t.

“It’s an unfair advantage,” he said.

Industry Minister James Moore has refused to budge on the issue so far, arguing that more competition is needed in Canada's wireless industry.

In a statement issued last month, the CEP accused the Harper government of going on an “ideological crusade” with its insistence that telecoms be opened up to foreign investors.

"If the government is really concerned about protecting wireless consumers why not simply regulate pricing and contract rules," Coles said. "Instead they are hell bent on foreign ownership of this country's telco sector, which is bad for Canada's workers, security and culture."

The CEP is also concerned about Verizon’s relations with its 45,000 unionized workers in the U.S. The Communications Workers of America have launched a campaign against the company, accusing it of attacking the middle class, dodging taxes and opposing consumer rights, among many other things.

"Verizon has been caught spying on the Communications Workers of America, selling marketers disturbingly detailed information on its subscribers and it even charges the U.S. government $500 a month for each wiretap it places on its customers," Coles said last month. "This gives a whole new meaning to Verizon's 'share everything' plan."

Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said in June the company is exploring a possible bid for Wind Mobile, one of Canada's three struggling small wireless entrants. There have also been unconfirmed reports that Verizon is in talks to buy Mobilicity, another small wireless player.

This story has been updated from its original version. It was expanded to include comment from industry observers.

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