Every 27 seconds. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month. Canadian telecommunications providers, who collect massive amounts of data about their subscribers, are asked to disclose basic subscriber information to Canadian law enforcement agencies every 27 seconds. In 2011, that added up to 1,193,630 requests. Given the volume, most likely do not involve a warrant or court oversight (2010 RCMP data showed 94% of requests involving customer name and address information was provided voluntarily without a warrant).
In most warrantless cases, the telecommunications companies were entitled to say no. The law says that telecom companies and Internet providers may disclose personal information without a warrant as part of a lawful investigation or they can withhold the information until law enforcement has obtained a warrant. According to newly released information, three telecom providers alone disclosed information from 785,000 customer accounts in 2011, suggesting that the actual totals were much higher. Moreover, virtually all providers sought compensation for complying with the requests.
These stunning disclosures, which were released by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, comes directly from the telecom industry after years of keeping their disclosure practices shielded from public view. In fact, the industry was reluctant to provide the information to even the Privacy Commissioner.
According to correspondence I obtained under the Access to Information Act, after the Commissioner sent letters to the 12 biggest telecom and Internet providers seeking information on their disclosure practices, Rogers, Bell and RIM proposed aggregating the information to keep the data from individual companies secret. The response dragged on for months, with Bell admitting at one point that only four providers had provided data and expressing concern about whether it could submit even the aggregated response since it would be unable to maintain anonymity [I’ve released the full ATIP I received here].
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The Broadcasting Act is a complex statute that lists more than twenty broadcasting policy goals. Yet for decades, Canadian policy has largely boiled down to a single objective: Maximizing the benefits from the broadcasting system for creators, broadcasters, and broadcast distributors such as cable and satellite companies.
Consumers were nowhere to be found in that objective and it showed. Creators benefited from Canadian content requirements and financial contributions that guaranteed the creation of Canadian broadcast content. Broadcasters flourished in a market that permitted simultaneous substitution (thereby enabling big profits from licensing U.S. content) and that kept U.S. giants such as HBO, ESPN, and MTV out of the market for years in favour of Canadian alternatives. Cable and satellite companies became dominant media companies by requiring consumers to purchase large packages filled with channels they did not want in order to access the few they did.
Canadians may have been frustrated with the broadcast system, but there were no obvious alternatives and their views hardly mattered in a regulatory system dominated by the established players. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that last week, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission sent an unmistakable signal that these longstanding rules are about to change.
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Appeared in the Toronto Star on April 26, 2014 as What Would You Do If You Could Hit the Reset Button on TV Regulation? The Broadcasting Act is a complex statute that lists more than twenty broadcasting policy goals. Yet for decades, Canadian policy has largely boiled down to a […]
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Last week, many in the Internet community were outraged by a U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposal that would significantly undermine net neutrality. The commentary on the (still unpublished) U.S. proposal says it all – The FCC’s New Net Neutrality Proposal is Even Worse Than You Think, Is Net Neutrality Dying, How Open Will the FCC’s ‘Open Internet’ Really Be?, Goodbye, Net Neutrality: Hello, Net Discrimination, and Net Neutrality Dead for Good?. The FCC responded with its own post that did little to assuage the concerns, stating that the U.S. rules will propose:
1. That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network;
2. That no legal content may be blocked; and
3. That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.
Transparency and no legal blocking are hold overs from the earlier Open Internet order. The third issue is where net neutrality would be harmed as the FCC is proposing to shift toward a “commercially unreasonable” standard for treating similar content in different ways. That approach would certainly permit paid prioritization, where deep pocketed content owners could pay to have their content sent on a fast lane, while everyone else is stuck on the slow lane. Moreover, given that the earlier Open Internet order was struck down by a U.S. court, even transparency and content blocking presently fall through the cracks.
Given the widespread attention to the U.S. developments, many have been asking about the impact in Canada.
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It started innocuously enough with the House of Commons Committee on Industry, Science and Technology releasing its long-awaited report on intellectual property in Canada in March 2013. The report included a recommendation that Canada ratify several international patent and trademark treaties, which came as a surprise (particularly to opposition members of parliament) since no witness had raised the issue before the committee.
Within weeks, the government accepted the recommendation and one year later it moved to ratify the treaties with scant debate or discussion. Yet the ratification of five intellectual property treaties about which few Canadians have ever heard and that seem certain to increase fees for business was only the start.
Indeed, earlier this month, the government quietly included provisions in the budget implementation bill that will radically overhaul Canadian trademark law. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes those changes have not been subject to any serious debate, discussion or public consultation.
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