Many federal authorities keep few or no records of their requests to telecommunications companies for Canadians' private information, newly released federal documents show.
Documents tabled by government this week show, for instance, the RCMP have only scatter-shot records and keep no regular database of when they ask telecom companies for subscriber information. Some federal agencies flatly refused to disclose their data.
The Canada Border Services Agency said it had no data before 2012, while the Mounties also say wiretap statistical records are "no longer available" for 2001 and 2002 – including the period of heightened terror alert after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Broadly, the documents show there's no standard across Canadian agencies for handling these requests, which the Supreme Court ruled this year should typically require a warrant.
The issue of "lawful access" to Canadians' phone and online information has been under scrutiny in Ottawa as of late, in particular as the government pushes to pass a bill, C-13, that includes a host of new surveillance powers and immunity for telecommunications companies that hand over data.
"Many departments say they don't have the information and say they don't keep track of these things," said NDP MP Charmaine Borg, whose questions led to the release of response documents. "… And if that is the case, that brings up to me a huge problem. How are we supposed to ensure there are no abuses, and that government agencies are making these requests within very extreme circumstances, when they don't even keep track of when they're making them?"
Canada's spy agencies – the Communications Security Establishment and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – refused to answer Ms. Borg's questions, citing security reasons. Ms. Borg says they should provide aggregate data.
The records echo earlier documents that showed CBSA made 18,849 requests from 2012 to 2013. That included requests for geo-location, call records, the content of text messages, voice mails, cell-tower logs and transmission data related to online browsing. The requests would require authorization from a judge or the Minister of Public Safety, Steven Blaney, the CBSA's response said.
The RCMP response shows they've received 664 judicial authorizations for wiretaps, and 254 authorizations for video monitoring, since 2003. However the RCMP "does not maintain a centralized data repository" on other requests, its response said.
Other documents released after questions from Liberal MP Irwin Cotler show Environment Canada has made 676 data requests since 2010 and, with that, laid no charges. Another document shows Canada's International Assistance Group, on behalf of foreign states, made requests of several agencies, including BlackBerry, dating website Plenty of Fish and Club Penguin, a children's game, as pointed out in a blog by University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist.
The Canada Revenue Agency "may" seek subscriber information but "does not track this activity," its response to Ms. Borg said. The Transportation Safety Board estimated it makes eight to 12 requests each year but doesn't track them.
Christopher Parsons, a postdoctoral fellow at the Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, said non-federal agencies, such as police forces, are also seeking data. "Even if we got good numbers from all the federal government, there is a huge, huge part of the surveillance iceberg that's yet to be seen," he said.