#CyberFLASH: One quarter of Canadian online traffic vulnerable to NSA sweeps: researchers

leaked_data_focus_455234A large amount of Canadian internet traffic is being routed through the United States, leaving it vulnerable to collection and probing by the National Security Agency.

And most Canadians have no idea of how exposed they are to American data sweeps, say the researchers behind a new tool that aims to show Canadians what path their internet traffic takes to connect to the websites they want to visit.

In a new online project launched Thursday, researchers from the University of Toronto and York University have partnered with Open Media to create a tool to show the paths Canadians’ internet data take when they access websites or send online communications.

While past estimates have suggested roughly 90 per cent of Canadian internet traffic is routed through the United States — particularly in cases where a Canadian visits an American or foreign website — the new data gathered so far by the researchers build on that and suggest that even when both the origin and destination of the traffic are in Canada, there’s still a one-in-four chance it goes through the U.S.

“I think most Canadians would be really surprised to learn that quite so much of our internet traffic, even our domestic Canada-to-Canada traffic, actually ends up being routed through the U.S.,” said David Christopher, spokesperson for Open Media.

“Canada’s lack in sufficient internet exchange points within our borders is really a big reason why so much of our traffic does travel through the U.S. I think nowadays a lot of people think of the internet as almost like a cloud and I think a lot of people don’t put a lot of thought into what happens when we visit a website on the other side of the country.”

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#CyberFLASH: Beyond a Netflix Tax, Why Melanie Joly’s Comments Point to Regulation of Internet Services

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The prospect of new digital taxes and regulation to fund the creation of Canadian content continues to attract attention with cultural groups leading the charge. For example, the Canadian Independent Music Association recently called for the regulation of digital services and ISPs including mandated contributions to support the development of Canadian content, while ADISQ has previously lobbied for a similar policy approach.

With mounting coverage of the issue, Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly appeared last weekend on CTV’s Question Period, spending most of the nine minutes dodging questions from host Evan Solomon. Joly started by clearly stating that “there will be no new Netflix tax”, but spent the rest of the interview making the case for one. The discussion featured speaking points that seemed to contradict the no Netflix tax approach, emphasizing that everything is on the policy table and that the government is looking at all scenarios. Solomon noted the inconsistency of the comments and Joly struggled to respond.

Most troubling was the exchange on new regulations, taxes or fees for Internet companies and services. Solomon specifically asked whether the only digital tax that Joly was willing rule out was a Netflix tax. Joly’s response:

I’ve said that we’re willing to have a conversation with digital platforms. Netflix is one of them. There are Amazons, Hulus, Apple. There are big companies that are part of our ecosystem, that are used and liked by Canadians. This is why we want to make sure that we know that they are using a large part of our spectrum that we can have a conversation with them to see how they can participate.

While it is somewhat difficult to fully decipher Joly’s comments, the references point in the direction of a tax or regulation on Internet services and service providers.

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#CyberFLASH: How a file-sharing lawsuit against Rogers threatens your Internet privacy: Geist

hurt-locker2.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x612The centrepiece of Canada’s 2012 digital copyright reforms was the legal implementation of the “notice-and-notice” system that seeks to balance the interests of copyright holders, the privacy rights of Internet users and the legal obligations of Internet service providers (ISPs).

The law makes it easy for copyright owners to send infringement notices to ISPs, who are legally required to forward the notifications to their subscribers. The personal information of subscribers is not disclosed to the copyright owner.

Despite the promise of the notice-and-notice system, it has been misused virtually from the moment it took effect, with copyright owners exploiting a loophole in the law by sending settlement demands within the notices.

The government has tried to warn recipients that they need not settle — the Office of Consumer Affairs advises that there are no obligations on a subscriber that receives a notice and that getting a notice does not necessarily mean you will be sued — yet many subscribers panic when they receive notifications and promptly pay hundreds or thousands of dollars.

While the government has been slow to implement an easy fix for the problem in the form of regulations prohibiting the inclusion of settlement demands within the notices, another issue looms on the legal horizon that could eviscerate the privacy protections associated with the system.

Earlier this year, Voltage Pictures, which previously engaged in a lengthy court battle to require Canadian ISPs to disclose the names of alleged file sharers, adopted a new legal strategy. While the company obtained an order to disclose names in the earlier case, it came with conditions and costs. Its latest approach involves filing a reverse class action lawsuit against an unknown number of alleged uploaders of five of its movies.

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#CyberFLASH: Mapping Out the CRTC Blueprint for Universal Affordable Internet Access

typing-darkIn the wake of nearly two decades of study, debate, task forces, and government programs, Canada’s telecommunications regulator has begun to unveil its blueprint for ensuring that all Canadians have access to affordable, high-speed Internet services. If the plan rolls out as many expect, Canadians in urban areas will benefit from a more competitive environment for high-speed fibre services, while consumers in rural and remote areas will be guaranteed access through a clear legal commitment to universal broadband service.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that part one of the blueprint was released last week as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission rejected opposition from large cable and telecom providers by ordering them to offer independent Internet providers wholesale access to emerging high-speed fibre networks.

The decision on wholesale access is the latest skirmish in a long-running battle pitting telecom giants such as Bell and Telus against upstart providers like TekSavvy and Distributel. Recognizing the advantages held by incumbent providers who enjoy direct connections to consumers (the so-called “last mile”), Canadian regulations foster a more competitive environment by requiring the incumbents to grant independent providers sufficient access to allow for alternative consumer choice.

The system has succeeded in developing some credible independents, yet the market remains dominated by the larger players. Part of the problem has been the steady stream of technical and regulatory challenges faced by smaller entrants, who seemingly have little choice but to take each dispute to the CRTC, leading to costlier offerings, slower speeds, and less product differentiation.

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#CyberFLASH: Four ways Canada’s new transparency rules fall short.

hi-bc-archive-surveillance-camerasCanadians have become increasingly troubled by reports revealing that telecom and Internet companies receive millions of requests for subscriber data from a wide range of government departments. In light of public concern, some Internet and telecom companies have begun to issue regular transparency reports that feature aggregate data on the number of requests they receive and the disclosures they make.

The transparency reports from companies such as Rogers, Telus and TekSavvy have helped shed light on government demands for information and on corporate disclosure practices. However, they also paint an incomplete picture since companies have offered up inconsistent data and some of the largest, including Bell, have thus far refused to come clean on past requests and disclosures.

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a report last week that showed that all transparency reports are not created equal. For example, TekSavvy has provided information on the content of the disclosures, the number of accounts affected and instances where users were notified. By contrast, companies such as Rogers, Telus, Allstream and Wind Mobile have not disclosed this information, offering more limited data.

In an effort to create greater uniformity in transparency reporting, Industry Canada has just released new transparency reporting guidelines. The government states that it has released the guidelines “to help private organizations be open with their customers, regarding the management and sharing of their personal information with government, while respecting the work of law enforcement, national security agencies and regulatory authorities.”

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#CyberFLASH: Privacy law and anti-spam: Guidance from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

images-126Recent enforcement under Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is keeping the spotlight on this new legislation, which came into force just last year. While the CRTC is responsible for the bulk of enforcement under CASL, organizations should remember that CASL also brought in changes to Canada’s federal privacy law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which applies to the collection, use and disclosure of personal information (including individuals’ email addresses).

The federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) is responsible for investigating violations related to the new provisions under PIPEDA that target the practice of address harvesting. Address harvesting generally involves collecting electronic addresses through the use of a computer program, such as through web scraping, spyware, or automatic generation.

The OPC recently issued a guide and tip sheet for organizations on pratical steps to take to avoid contravening the PIPEDA requirements, including:

1. Obtain consent: Organizations must ensure that individuals are informed clearly and accurately at the point of collection about how their email addresses will be used. Just because an email address is posted online, it cannot be assumed that the individuals at the addresses posted have provided consent to receive email marketing. It is also useful to remember that there is no exception for address harvesting of business email addresses; PIPEDA’s definition of personal information includes business addresses.

2. Due Diligence with Service Providers: If an organization buys a list of email addresses from a vendor or employs service providers to conduct email marketing on their behalf, they should take due diligence steps by asking key questions, such as:

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#CyberFLASH: CRTC needs Canadians’ help to test home Internet speeds

1297702843330_ORIGINALAfter years of grumbling from consumers about slow Internet speeds, the government wants to find out whether Canadian Internet service providers are as fast as they claim to be.

The CRTC said Thursday it’s looking for 6,200 Canadians to participate in a project that will measure the performance of home broadband service.

Volunteers will receive a device called a “whitebox” that connects to their modem or router and periodically tests upload speed, download speed and other parameters. The CRTC says it won’t collect any data about users’ online activities and will respect their privacy.

“The results of this project will enable Canadians to gain additional insight into network performance, including actual connection speeds, and provide them with a better understanding of whether certain Internet services from participating ISPs are delivering speeds as advertised,” the agency said in a statement.

Canadians have consistently ranked in the middle of the pack or lower for Internet speeds among developed countries.

For instance, according to up-to-date measurement from a company called Ookla, which crowdsources worldwide data on Internet connections, Canada ranks 63rd in the world for upload speeds. It averages 7.58 Mbps (megabits per second) — slower than Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Cambodia. We’re 33rd for download speeds at 30.37 Mbps, on average.

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#CyberFLASH: Ranking Canada’s Telecom Providers on Consumer Complaints, Code Violations, Privacy Protections

 

typing-image-genericGovernment agencies, citizen awareness groups and international spy agencies have been assessing Canada’s Internet Service Providers – and not necessarily for pricing, monthly minutes or bandwidth caps.

The companies that connect most Canadians to the digital world are letting us down, reports indicate.

Yes, we are still among the highest ranked users of Internet and cell services, but companies that deliver the goods to us have more work to do in terms of being open and respectful about service contracts, consumer privacy and, yes, monthly fees.

Even as more and more of us sign up for wireless phone packages, billing errors continue to be the most commonly raised issue (13 per cent of all issues), followed by complaints about non-disclosure of contract terms (almost 12 per cent of all issues), according to the most recent report from the country’s Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS).

Its Mid-Year Report (for August 1, 2014 to January 31, 2015) does cite a reduction (8.5 per cent) in overall complaints, but also a concerning increase in specific types of complaints, as well as an uptick in the number of violations of The Wireless Code, that set of rules and regulations designed to protect Canadian consumers.

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