“Our primary concern in this area has always been the capacity of industry to implement any new requirements and who bears the cost.”
The message from Bell that it prioritizes cost on the lawful access issue should not come as a surprise. For years, the telecom and Internet provider community have focused most of their attention on the costs associated with divulging subscriber information or responding to other law enforcement requests. While recouping the costs associated with installing new surveillance-capable equipment is an obvious issue, the potential to turn subscriber information disclosures into a new revenue source is particularly troubling.
On compensation for operational costs, the associations adopted the position that they should be compensated for all disclosures, including the disclosures of subscriber information under the mandatory warrantless model. A year later, the CWTA went further, telling Public Safety that “unless our legitimate concerns are addressed, it will be difficult for the industry to support this important initiative going forward.” Given the tens of thousands of disclosures that occur every year (most presumably without compensation), this could turn into a new source of revenue.
Despite years of wrangling over the cost issue, the government still has not decided how to handle the issue. Law enforcement previously proposed a levy on subscriber bills and a recent briefing note obtained under Access to Information for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews produced after Bill C-30 was introduced notes the issue is still unresolved with the talking point that “my Department is working in concern with the RCMP, CSIS, and several other agencies and departments to develop a fee schedule that will be fair for all parties.” No one knows what that means – it could mean payments for assistance on warrants that involve surveillance of subscribers, payments for disclosure of subscriber information, or payments for surveillance equipment installations. The likely outcome, however, is that the major telecom and Internet providers will trade support of the bill for payments to cover their costs, leaving subscribers stuck with less privacy and ultimately footing the bill.