Telecom Transparency Project releases troubling report on government surveillance

Monday, June 01, 2015
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Monday, June 1, 2015
By Sam Pinto On May 29th, the Telecom Transparency Project, in collaboration with The Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, released The Governance of Telecommunications Surveillance: How Opaque and Unaccountable Practices and Policies Threaten Canadians, a troubling report on how telecommunications surveillance is governed in Canada. The report seeks to address a series of questions related to government surveillance of communications services, including how much oversight the federal government has over these practices and to what degree this surveillance is actually taking place. Several alarming findings are revealed in the report, which concludes that the government is failing Canadians when it comes to protecting their personal information. The significant lack of transparency and accountability in government surveillance of communications systems poses a serious threat to the privacy of Canadians, and government powers over surveillance are only expected to increase with legislation such as Bill C-51. Some of the findings include:
  • • Political actors have extensive authority in their ability to conduct telecommunications surveillance. These powers will expand with passing of laws such as Bill C-51.
  • • Telecom companies’ transparency reports lack the details of how often and what type of surveillance is being conducted on Canadians. They also lack details on legal requests and the number of subscribers affected.
  • • Government watchdogs have little control over telecommunications surveillance. They are underfunded, have minimal cooperation with each other and have outdated mandates that do not reflect today’s digital landscape.
To counter the flaws in the existing system, the report proposes a series of recommendations that would increase accountability, transparency and oversight, including:
  • • Telecommunications companies need more transparency in their reporting on their surveillance practices and data.
  • • The government needs to hold their surveillance agencies—such as SIRC, CSE’s oversight commission, and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada—more accountable by requiring mandatory reporting of all telecommunications surveillance.
  • • Institutions responsible for overseeing government surveillance need expanded powers and mandates, and a parliamentary committee should be struck that can compel review agencies to provide special reports on important topics.
Read the full report (PDF).
Sam Pinto Is CJFE’s Outreach and Communications Assistant. Follow him on Twitter @SamPinto94.

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