Earlier this year, reports indicated that the Canadian Border Services Agency had requested subscriber information over 18,000 times in a single year, with the vast majority of the requests and disclosures occuring without a warrant. The information came to light through NDP MP Charmaine Borg’s efforts to obtain information on government agencies requests for subscriber data. Borg followed up the initial request with a broader timeline and earlier this week she receive the government’s response.
The latest response confirms the earlier numbers. First, the CBSA confirms that requests for subscriber information are conducted without a court order by relying upon Section 43 of the Customs Act. It provides:
43. (1) The Minister may, for any purpose related to the administration or enforcement of this Act, including the collection of any amount owing under this Act by any person, by notice served personally or sent by registered or certified mail, require any person to provide any record at a place specified by the Minister and within any reasonable time that may be stipulated in the notice.
(2) Any person who is required to provide any records, books, letters, accounts, invoices, statements or other documents or information under subsection (1) shall, notwithstanding any other law to the contrary but subject to subsection (3), do so as required.
The CBSA argues that the “disclosure is usually permitted by the terms and conditions of the contract agreed to between the subscriber and the TSP upon registration.” Requests for subscriber data are typically completed within 2 – 3 business days. The data itself is retained for seven years. The CBSA says most requests are related to drug trafficking.
The CBSA paid over $24,000 in fees in one year for subscriber information requests with most fees set between $1.00 and $3.00. The response reveals that there are different levels of compensation for subscriber requests depending on whether the circumstances are exigent or non-exigent. Exigent (ie. emergency) circumstances allow for payment of up to $10.00 per request. The CBSA notes that subscribers are not notified of the disclosure, though they may become aware of the disclosure if legal action is taken against the person.
Given the need for greater transparency, all departments should be disclosing their aggregate requests, the legal basis for the requests, and their policies associated with the information they obtain.