While much of the attention this week on the massive number of requests for subscriber information has rightly focused on the government and a legal framework that provides insufficient oversight (and is about to expand warrantless disclosure under Bills C-13 and S-4), the telecom and Internet companies also deserve greater scrutiny. One of the key questions in the document on telecom and Internet provider disclosure practices asked simply:
Do you notify your customers, when the law allows, that their information has been requested, thus giving them an opportunity to contest the request in court?
The answer from every provider: No.
In the United States, major U.S. technology companies are now moving to disclose requests to affected customers, with the Washington Post reporting that they believe that “users have a right to know in advance when their information is targeted for government seizure.” Yet Canadian providers apparently disclose subscriber information hundreds of thousands of times every year but keep their customers in the dark.
Legislative reform is needed that requires telecom and Internet providers to advise affected individuals about warrantless disclosures of their personal information unless a court prohibits them from doing so. Such a requirement would inform Canadians when their information is being disclosed and provide them with the opportunity to contest it if they see fit.
In the meantime, Canadians could also use existing law more aggressively to demand that telecom providers reveal any instances of prior disclosures of their information. The law allows an individual to file a request with an organization for access to their personal information, including any details on past disclosures. Failure to comply would violate Canada’s private sector privacy law. Christopher Parsons of the Citizen Law has created a template for doing just that – the page provides the information Canadians need to file a request and the contact information details for where it should be sent.