How Canada’s Telecom Companies Have Secretly Supported Internet Surveillance Legislation

Canada’s proposed Internet surveillance was back in the news last week after speculation grew that government intends to keep the bill in legislative limbo until it dies on the order paper. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews denied the reports, maintaining that Bill C-30 will still be sent to committee for further study.

Since its introduction in mid-February, the privacy and law enforcement communities have continued to express their views on the bill, but Canada’s telecom service providers, which include the major telecom carriers and Internet service providers, have remained strangely silent. The silence is surprising given the enormous implications of the bill for the privacy of their customers and the possibility of millions of dollars in new surveillance equipment costs, active cooperation with law enforcement, and employee background checks.

While some attribute the Internet surveillance silence to an attempt to avoid picking sides in the high stakes privacy and security battle, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act offer a different, more troubling explanation. My weekly technology law column notes (Toronto Star version, homepage version) in the months leading up to the introduction Bill C-30, Canada’s telecom companies worked actively with government officials to identify key issues and to develop a secret Industry – Government Collaborative Forum on Lawful Access.

The secret working group includes virtually all the major telecom and cable companies, whose representatives have been granted Government of Canada Secret level security clearance and signed non-disclosure agreements. The group is led by Bell Canada on the industry side and Public Safety for the government.

The inaugural meeting, held just three weeks before Bill C-30 was introduced, included invitations to eleven companies (Bell Canada, Cogeco, Eagle, MTS Allstream, Quebecor, Research In Motion, Rogers, Sasktel, Telus, Vidéotron, and Wind Mobile) along with two industry associations (the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and the Canadian Network Operators Consortium).

The secret working group is designed to create an open channel for discussion between telecom providers and government. As the uproar over Bill C-30 was generating front-page news across the country, Bell reached out to government to indicate that “it was working its way through C-30 with great interest” and expressed desire for a meeting to discuss disclosure of subscriber information. A few weeks later, it sent another request seeking details on equipment obligations to assist in its costing exercises.

Months before the January 2012 meeting, officials worked with the telecom companies to identify many concerns and provide guidance on the government’s intent on Internet surveillance regulations, information that has never been publicly released.

For example, a December 2011 draft list of lawful access issues features questions about surveillance of social networks, cloud computing facilities, and Wi-Fi networks. The telecom companies raise many questions about compensation, such as “a formula for adequate compensation” for the disclosure of subscriber information as well as payment for testing surveillance capabilities and providing surveillance assistance.

At a September 2011 meeting that included Bell Canada, Cogeco, RIM, Telus, Rogers, Microsoft, and the Information Technology Association of Canada, government officials provided a lawful access regulations policy document that offered guidance on plans for extensive regulations that will ultimately accompany the Internet surveillance legislation.  

The 17-page document indicates that providers will be required to disclose certain subscriber information without a warrant within 48 hours and within 30 minutes in exceptional circumstances. Interceptions of communications may also need to be established within 30 minutes of a request with capabilities that include simultaneous interceptions for five law enforcement agencies.

The close cooperation between the government and telecom providers has created a two-tier approach to Internet surveillance policy, granting privileged access and information for telecom providers. Meanwhile, privacy and civil society groups, opposition MPs, and millions of interested Canadians are kept in the dark about the full extent of the government’s plans. The public has already indicated its opposition to the bill. The secrecy and backroom industry talks associated with Bill C-30 provides yet another reason to hit the reset button.


  1. Anarchist Philanthropist says:

    little shock
    That this was even happening let alone that the big three were involved! Kinda shocked RIM and MS are part of it, it sounds more like something Apple would be involved with.

  2. Wait…
    Quebecor AND Vidéotron where invited? Euh… Vidéotron is part of Quebecor…

  3. Crockett says:

    Eager Beavers
    Bell – Do ‘Know’ Evil.

    Props to Shaw for not participating in this mess.

  4. Wind Mobile
    Any more info on Wind’s involvement? I switched to these guy a few months back and they have been pretty good but sorry I don’t want your service if you are willingly willing to bend me over while the gov has you bent over.

  5. @littleshock RIM and MS have a long history in helping government surveillance. Apple, not really. They don’t get into the mess if it does not benefit them directly. Not saying they would fight for the users. But here you have it with bad press they stayed away 🙂

  6. >The secret working group is designed to create an open channel for discussion between telecom providers and government.

    If you got nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. So why so much secrecy?

  7. Shaw Communications Inc
    Once again, I see Shaw Communications Inc demonstrating its desire to be nothing more than our data pipe (unless they are a subsidiary of one of the listed companies?). Speak with your wallet, as a consumer & investor.

  8. NuclearMoose says:

    Bend over, Canadians
    We won’t do a damn thing about this except whine and bitch. I’m sick to death of apathetic people who can’t be bothered to vote and look what this country winds up with – a government that puts police above people…government above people.

    When will we learn?

  9. Business as usual?
    One good reason that such a meeting might need to be secret is if off the record surveillance was to be discussed. Rumour has it that such inadmissible but useful surveillance is fairly popular.

  10. Did you truely expect anything less from them or the pond-scum that have hijacked the party?

  11. David Collier-Brown says:

    Issues for smaller ISPs
    When this bill was proposed, the members of the Greater Toronto Area Linux User Group (GTALUG) expressed fears that smaller ISPs would not be able to afford the kind of dedicated wiretapping hardware that would be necessary to do a decent job of snooping. For some value of “decent”!

    The evidence thus far suggests that is going to be the case, and that they can be squeezed out of the market in favour of the Bell/Rogers duopoly and a few friends.

    A wise government would be cautious about making it harder and harder for a small company to compete with quasi-regulated monopolies…


  12. Teksaavy
    I’ll be switching to Teksaavy soon but now wondering if they’ll be around much longer if this is passed.

    CONS really want to be voted out next election because IC this as a death to them for sure!

  13. Re: Teksaavy
    Realistically switching to Teksaavy will not save you from the surveillance even if they choose not to participate as the companies they have to buy their services from (Bell, Rogers, etc.) are all participating.

    Also, as has been said before, I’m glad to see that Shaw’s name isn’t listed, but that doesn’t mean they’re not part of it, someone may have just neglected to mention them as happens quite frequently because of how Western-focused they are. I hope it’s true that they aren’t involved, but I’m not holding my breath.

  14. Mr. Magoo says:

    Who? What? Why?
    What does switching to Teksavvy do?

    The title of this post is, “How Canada’s Telecom Companies Have Secretly Supported Internet Surveillance Legislation”

    In this post Dr. Geist specifically names CNOC as also participating. CNOC = Teksavvy + others.

    So tell me again? Why are you changing to Teksavvy/CNOC?

  15. Taxpayers are paying off the telcos?
    Telcos are notorious when it comes to money. Given the cost of the gear and people, my guess is the taxpayers are going to be very generous.

  16. no sht
    No sht telco companies support bill C30, they make a cut from lawful access money!

    this bill is flawed. I know people that worked on it, amateurs.

    it gives the police way way too much power over privacy laws.

    democracy and privacy are going down the shitter in this country.

    We’re starting to look a lot like china!

    what the hell is going on!!!

  17. Switching to techsavvy
    Are you people daft or under educated? Teksaavy is nothing more than a reselling leach selling you a service at a higher cost than real providers will sell it you.

  18. concerned says:

    hey islander!
    Teksavvy is indeed a reseller, but they sell service that is simultaneously better AND cheaper than the big guys.

    That was some very poor telling on your part.

  19. Email addresses
    The email addresses in janmeetinglist.pdf aren’t showing up. Remembering the guessable one is just the lawyer, and Tom from Eagle probably sent someone else, it’s too bad citizens were excluded and can’t add input.

  20. slashdotted says:

    You and the Online Community (not DoS)
    This article was slashdotted (YRO), causing some “contact the administrator” loading errors; they directly linked a PDF. Anyway, a big old share of the world’s tech public just learned the secret plans thanks to this work.

  21. No one has suggested – stop til they stop, as in going offline en masse when/if this bill comes to law. I know I will, it’s the only way I know to protest it. If there are other ways other than hitting their pocket book, pray tell.

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    Ottawa Business Consulting UPCOM is a Business Consulting Firm in Ottawa,Creative Services Canada, ON. dedicated to providing businesses with proven problem solving techniques and

  23. Guys… I know switching to Teksaavy won’t save me from surveillance that’s not why I said I was switching it’s because Rogers sucks and it’s expensive. Also as I clearly said I was worried switching to them may be pointless if they might have to raise their prices or could go out of business because if the bill passed they would have to get new equipment.

    Looks like you’re uneducated maybe before you type shit like that know what you’re talking about and clearly you don’t.

  24. Hoping
    I hope everyone is up to it!

  25. larger problems.
    A significant number of the security staff at those companies are foreign nationals, some of them have foreign military backgrounds. This is so bad for Canada.

  26. Anonymous says:

    What to do, what not to do
    What not to do: stay with Rogers. They are invested in content, they’ll be monitoring for the sharing of their Jays and Leafs games first, in fact, they’ve kept the Net just slow enough that streaming media is not as good as TV, and it has not gotten any faster in ten years. Do you remember when modem speeds doubled every few years, as per Moore’s Law, and then Rogers bought all the little ISPs out and the CRTC did nothing?!?

    What to do: Install the super-simple TOR button in your browser and leave it on, it is the ONLY way to support free speech and to stop these fascist governments. Don’t be afraid, they can’t do anything to you for running it, it’s NOT illegal. Anonymity is a vital necessity, not only for the oppressed, but for democracy, and even for culture. We can reward creativity without copyright, can fight child abuse without censorship, and can manage traffic without surveillance, but we cannot have just “some free speech”.

  27. Cyphernaut says:

    Use crypto!
    Did you all really think that this wouldn’t happen here? Look at the history of the surveillance state. I suspect they have been spying on us for at least the last 6-8 years.

    Solution: Use cryptography (Tor, I2P, Freenet, OpenVPN, IPSec, etc) and be done with it.

    The tyrants won’t stop until they can spy on everything we do so let’s not make it easy for them, k?

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