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A Rogers sign is seen at its headquarters in Toronto April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (© Mark Blinch / Reuters)
A Rogers sign is seen at its headquarters in Toronto April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (© Mark Blinch / Reuters)

Globe editorial

Which agency is listening on your phone line? Add to ...

At last, there is a growing and welcome trend among telecommunications companies to publish numbers on the requests and demands of the police, and other government authorities, for their customers’ data. Internet service provider TekSavvy Solutions and Rogers Communications Inc. released their information last week, and Telus Corp. says it is working on such a report.

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Meanwhile in Britain, international telco Vodafone Group PLC on Friday published a report saying that in “a small number of countries” in which it operates, it must by law give governments a “direct link” to the data. At least Canadians have been spared that.

Still, Rogers did not provide numbers on its responses to the authorities’ requests. Sooner or later, that information should be made public, too. But one reason for its absence is that the company says, “We don’t keep track of it. Our tracking to date has really been for internal management purposes, not for creating a transparency report.” That is confusing. Do they track their responses or not?

More importantly, telecommunications firms should always insist on a judge’s warrant before they provide customer data to the police or intelligence agencies – possibly with exceptions for the most neutral information, such as cellphone numbers. And Canadian law should demand as much. Right now, it does not.

Even so, a person’s phone number is probably “metadata,” or what Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, calls “transmission data,” defined as what has to do with “the telecommunications functions of dialling, routing, addressing or signalling.” If the bill is passed, police access to metadata would require judicial authorization, too, on the lesser standard of “reasonable suspicion” of a crime.

The most unsettling aspect of the recent numbers on state access to private communications is that Canadian authorities appear to be more intrusive than those in the United States. The huge American company Verizon Communications Inc. seems to get proportionately far fewer such requests from law-enforcement agencies than its Canadian equivalents.

This is unexpected. And it suggests that when it comes to personal information, Canadian law is too trusting of our police and intelligence agencies.

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