Canada’s privacy watchdog says it wasn’t able to determine whether the RCMP’s warrantless access requests for subscriber data from telecoms were legal because the police service isn’t keeping proper records.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner issued a report Thursday warning government bodies to keep proper records of requests for private information after a review of the RCMP’s actions under the Privacy Act.
“We were disappointed to find that limitations in the RCMP’s information management systems meant we were unable to assess [if appropriate] controls were in place,” said Commissioner Daniel Therrien.
“It was not possible to determine how often the RCMP collected subscriber data without a warrant. Nor could we assess whether such requests were justified.”
The investigation was closed after senior officials at the RCMP told the privacy commissioner the force would ensure it kept better data records following the ruling in a recent landmark Supreme Court case regarding consumer privacy rights.The top court ruled that government agencies must obtain a search warrant before requesting consumer data, unless under extenuating circumstances.
The privacy commissioner revealed in April that the federal government asks telecom companies for private customer information about 1.2 million times each year. Telecom companies complied with the government's requests at least 784,756 times, according to information provided to the office in 2011. It is unclear how many of those requests were made without a warrant.
There has been increasing pressure for telecom companies to reveal details of their interactions with law enforcement. In June, Rogers became the first major telecom to disclose its data-sharing information.
The RCMP has agreed to implement a monitoring and reporting system for warrantless requests for subscriber information, a protocol Therrien called on other government bodies to follow.
“Canadians understand that law enforcement and national security agencies have legitimate needs to collect personal information. Transparency is critical to accountability and will help to increase trust. Canadians want and deserve to have a clearer picture of how, when and why federal institutions are collecting personal information,” the Commissioner said.
The commissioner’s findings were part of the office's annual report to Parliament, which also found a trend of increased collection of personal information at borders and the expansion of the sharing and use of that information with U.S. authorities.
The report also found the number of data breaches at federal institutions reached a record high of 228 reported incidents, more than double the 109 reported the year before.
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