#CyberFLASH: Ottawa’s disturbing appetite for Internet subscriber information: Geist

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Government and law enforcement warrantless requests for telecom and Internet subscriber information have emerged as a major concern in recent months with revelations of tens of thousands of requests annually. The Supreme Court of Canada examined the issue in June, issuing the landmark Spencer decision that confirmed there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in subscriber data and raising serious doubts about the constitutionality of voluntary disclosures that occur without court oversight.

While major telecom companies such as Rogers and Telus have adjusted their policies in response to the decision, newly released documents reveal that the government’s approach to subscriber information requests remains wildly inconsistent.

The documents, obtained through a parliamentary request by Liberal Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler, paint a disturbing picture: massive numbers of requests often with little or no record keeping, evidence to suggest that the disclosures frequently do not lead to charges, requests that extend far beyond telecom providers to include online dating and children’s sites, and inconsistent application of the Supreme Court’s Spencer decision.

Departments such as CSIS and CSEC unsurprisingly declined to provide much information, but several other departments were more forthcoming. For example, the Department of Justice provided data on requests arising from its International Assistance Group, which submits requests on behalf of foreign states.

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