Harper government bombarded telecom companies with requests for private customer info without warrant: Commissioner

Harper government bombarded telecom companies with requests for private customer info without warrant: Commissioner by Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press, April 29, 2014, Calgary Herald
The federal government asks Canadian telecom companies for private customer information about 1.2 million times each year, documents released Tuesday by the federal privacy commissioner’s office show. It is unclear how many of those requests are made without a warrant. But figures provided to the office in late 2011 show wireless telecom companies complied with the government’s requests for customer data at least 784,756 times. However, the actual total is likely even greater, since only three of nine telecom companies told the commissioner’s office how many times they granted the government’s requests for customer data.

The numbers came to light Tuesday as Canada’s acting privacy commissioner revealed that telecom companies have refused to disclose how often they release confidential customer information to the federal government without a warrant.

Chantal Bernier, the interim privacy commissioner, said her office has repeatedly asked telecom companies to disclose statistics and the scope of warrantless disclosure of data, but to no avail. … “What we would like is for those warrantless disclosures to simply be represented in statistics so that Canadians have an idea of the scope of the phenomenon.”

On Tuesday, Bernier’s office provided media outlets with a copy of the association’s response, which reveals that as of December 2011, the aggregate average number of requests was 1,193,630 a year.

“We have tried many times. We have sought out information from the telecoms to find out,” Bernier said. … Last month, the Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax reported the Canada Border Services Agency alone accessed telecom customer data almost 19,000 times over one year — and no warrant was used more than 99 per cent of the time.

The law allows Canadian telecom companies and Internet providers to hand over customer information without a court order to help law-enforcement investigations. Bernier said she would like to see statistics published so Canadians know how many times their personal information is given to the government without a warrant. “It would give a form of oversight by empowering citizens to see what the scope of the phenomenon is.” Does Harper government want empowered Canadians? Empowered people get in the way of corporate profits]

In January, Bernier’s office released a report calling on Communications Security Establishment Canada — the federal government’s electronic eavesdropping agency — to tell Canadians more about what it’s doing. One of the recommendations, intended to bolster protection of privacy rights in national security efforts, called on CSEC to disclose annual statistics on cases in which it assists other federal agencies with requests for interception, which can include monitoring of Canadians. [Emphasis added]

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