CANADALAND #31: Selling Out Canadians is Good Business for Telcos


The latest episode of Jesse Brown’s CANADALAND podcast was released yesterday, and it’s another good one. Jesse’s guest this week is Chris Parsons from the Citizen Lab—the organization that’s been investigating the telecommunications industry’s complicity in government surveillance since at least the beginning of this year.

The interview was no doubt spurred by revelations from Michael Geist’s ATIP published last week; now, thanks to Jesse and Chris, we know even more about how our ISPs and wireless carriers are selling us out.

To reiterate, 9 of 12 Canadian telecommunications companies responded anonymously via the CWTA  to an inquiry by the Privacy Commissioner regarding the disclosure of customer data to law enforcement. Such requests were made by government agencies 1.2 million times in 2011 alone.

Logging IP addresses from visits to websites is nothing new; the big deal here is mapping that IP to a specific person. This is made possible by your ISP and/or carrier handing over subscriber data, which they do voluntarily. Critically, this is a warrantless process, and that’s where the trouble is.

Examples given include asking how much weed you can legally carry over the Canadian border on the CBSA website, or posting: “Am I a tax cheat if I do such and such?” on Revenue Canada. In posting such queries on the Internet you’ve done nothing wrong, but if a government agency decides to flag you based on what they deem suspicious you can be identified and tracked without due process.

Telcos are able to fulfill 1.2 million subscriber data requests with automated systems. And while a police force, even the RCMP, may not have the technology to deal with such potentially incriminating big data, the spy agencies CSIS and CSEC most definitely do.

So who pays for all this?

Surprisingly, telcos are charging government between $1 and $10 per subscriber record, while at the same time charging customers for service that’s being tracked and reported to law enforcement. How’s that for double-dipping?

For much more on warrantless spying, carrier complicity and forthcoming laws that could make things even worse, give Jesse and Chris a half-hour or so of your time. It’s worth it.