The Shameful Canadian Silence on Surveillance

Later this morning, U.S. President Barack Obama will give a speech on U.S. surveillance activities in which he is expected to establish new limitations on the program. While the measures will likely fall well short of what many believe is necessary, it is notable that the surveillance issue has emerged as a significant political issue since the Snowden leaks and the U.S. government has recognized the need to address it. 

Reaction to the Snowden leaks in the U.S. has not been limited to political responses. In recent months, Verizon and AT&T, the two U.S. telecom giants, announced plans to issue regular transparency reports on the number of law enforcement requests they receive for customer information. The telecom transparency reports come following a similar trend from leading Internet companies such as Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and Facebook

The U.S. reaction stands in stark contrast to the situation in Canada. Canadian government officials have said little about Canadian surveillance activities, despite leaks of spying activities, cooperation with the NSA, a federal court decision that criticized the intelligence agencies for misleading the court, and a domestic metadata program which remains shrouded in secrecy. In fact, the government seems to have moved in the opposite direction, by adopting a lower threshold for warrants seeking metadata than is required for standard warrants in Bill C-13.

Moreover, Canada’s telecom companies remain secretive about their participation in the surveillance activities, with no transparency reports and no public indications of their willingness to disclose customer information without a court order. With the U.S. telcos now on board, the telecom transparency gap in Canada has become particularly noteworthy.

Under Canadian law, Canadian telecom companies and Internet providers are permitted to disclose customer information without a court order as part of a lawful investigation. According to data obtained under Access to Information, we know that the RCMP has successfully obtained such information tens of thousands of times. Moreover, Bill C-13, the so-called “cyberbullying” bill includes a provision that is likely to increase the number of voluntary disclosures since it grants telecom companies and ISPs complete immunity from any civil or criminal liability for such disclosures.

Canadians deserve to know more about government surveillance activities, more about whether Canadian oversight is sufficient, and more about how companies such as Bell, Rogers, and Telus handle their personal information. This includes how many requests they receive for subscriber information, the reasons for the requests, how often they comply without a warrant, and how often they require court oversight before disclosing the information. The shameful Canadian surveillance silence – from both government and the telecom sector – must end with an open conversation about Canadian activities and whether current law strikes the right balance.


  1. Alternatives
    We could wait for the government and telecom to start this discussion voluntarily. Or go to, sign up for SurfEasy, and get Teksavvy. (While we still have the right to do so legally.)

    The cryptographers, activists and the Internet Society are advocating the latter, rather than hoping that government will give up power, or telecom will give up “its” Internet.

  2. Let’s get everyone to disclose
    Law enforcement agencies issue production orders to hundreds of different companies, not just the telecoms. Banks, car dealers, retailers, doctors, dentists, pharmacies, taxi companies, bakeries, etc. I guess they should all be ashamed for not compiling a tidy little voluntary disclosure report for someone to read at their leisure.

    I am already an over-taxed Canadian and I don’t want to see my tax dollars wasted on frivolous reports that nobody is interested in reading. Nor do I want to see companies increasing prices so they can pay someone to compile useless reports. If I want to see what data the police have been collecting I can go down to the local courthouse and sit-in on a trial or two.

  3. A Ram Amongst the Sheep
    Canadians care more about hockey scores than anything of real substance. CBC has said it and notice there’s about a dozen or so regular posters here?
    50 people isn’t even so much of a protest, let alone a revolution.

  4. it’s sick isn’t it
    NO ONE , NOT ONE PARTY, is trying ot push harper on it.
    i think after next year if that im turning off the net for good….this is just not worth me paying to get my privacy invaded.

  5. privacy invaded
    i know what you mean, i can’t walk down a public street without a camera every block, go shopping without a camera and a scanner at the door. i can’t even take a plane without some stranger wanting to search me and my bags! the only place left where people can get away with whatever they want is on the net and the *man* wants to take that RIGHT of ours away?!?!

  6. Don’t give up
    I’m sickened by this evil, too. But we must never forget. There have been billions on this network for decades enjoying the privacy, and they’re mad, too. Even the courts have started to insist that the lawyers not call it theft, because it’s not property. (AT&T)

    So the days of copyright and surveillance and “information crimes” are numbered, my friend. The geeks have been around since the beginning. The politicians will be gone with the next election.

  7. @Annie O’
    “Even the courts have started to insist that the lawyers not call it theft, because it’s not property.”

    huh? can you point me to a ruling (in any court regardless of country) that has made the claim you made above? Because everything I have been reading on the net is the complete opposite.
    I’ve love to put it on my blog.
    Thanks Annie O’

  8. This is just one of a turning tide on this…
    “In the present case, there is no evidence that the Defendants (or Hotfile’s founders) are ‘pirates’ or ‘thieves,’ nor is there evidence that they were ‘stealing’ or engaged in ‘piracy’ or ‘theft.’ Even if the Defendants had been found to have directly infringed on the Plaintiffs’ copyrights, such derogatory terms would add nothing to the Plaintiffs’ case, but would serve to improperly inflame the jury.”
    MPAA vs. Hotfile – December 2013
    (Yeah, sorry I said AT&T on this, my bad.)

  9. @Sheila M
    You’re right, we don’t need government crimes to be better documented. We need them to just plain stop.

    Applications for warrants (that follow legal due process) used to produce intel from banks, doctors, etc are already on public record are they not? They don’t need to be documented any more than they already are, and the same goes for telecom companies. This is a decoy, a distraction designed to make it look like they are being vigilant about preserving privacy&freedom without doing anything effective in that regard.

    It’s this extra-judicial activity, or activity that’s “regulated” by “secret courts” that is the real issue. That Google, Twitter, et all are advocating for documentation, and documentation alone, just goes to show how complicit they are in these crimes.

  10. @Annie O
    “such derogatory terms would add nothing to the Plaintiffs’ case, but would serve to improperly inflame the jury.” makes perfect sense Annie, but where does the court make the claim you posted “because it’s not property” ? Or was that another part of “Yeah, sorry I said AT&T on this, my bad.”

    RE: This is just one of a turning tide on this…
    After exploring the FACTS I think most people would agree with you.
    “As a result of a United States Federal Court having found to be in violation of copyright law the site has been permanently shut down. If you are looking for your favorite movies or TV-shows online, there are more ways than ever today to get high quality access to them on legal platforms.”
    Yup tides are turning that’s for sure. I hope you can swim Annie.

  11. US Spying on Canadian Citizens
    What the US Government does to US citizens/residents both domestic and abroad is one thing.

    What the Canadian Government to Cdn citizens/residents both domestic and abroad is another thing.

    What’s missing is a clear condemnation of US Government Spying on Canadian Citizens, who of course have none of the US-constitutional protections that “US Persons abroad” do.

    The US government hacks and cracks itself into any foreign system it wants to, case in point Belgian telco BelgaCom.

    Isn’t hacking/cracking into essential infrastructure by foreign governments (incl. state-sponsored entities) considered an Act of War?

  12. gifts
    That is just about all fine AND ALSO well; ALONG WITH You will discover lots of women who delight in candy, flowers AND ALSO jewelry (my wife included), but why end up being including any person else and get another forgettable gift with another forgettable holiday?