Expert report reveals Internet providers should be more transparent about how they handle our private information
March 27, 2014
Report lifts the curtain on how Internet providers protect privacy, giving Canadians an at-a-glance tool to rate their provider’s transparency
TORONTO, ON – A new report by leading privacy experts has revealed that Canadian Internet providers need to be much more transparent about how they protect their customers’ private information. The report found that while all providers had room for improvement, smaller independent providers tend to be more transparent overall than their larger counterparts. Smaller providers also got credit for being more transparent about their user privacy protection and for more visibly keeping domestic Canadian Internet traffic within Canada.
The report, entitled Keeping Internet Users in the Know or in the Dark, is being released today by IXmaps.ca and New Transparency Projects. The report offers Canadians an in-depth look at the Data Privacy Transparency of Canadian Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The authors have also released an at-a-glance ‘Star Table’ rating ISPs according to 10 transparency criteria. Canadians can use this chart to see how their provider compares with others. The ISP ‘star ratings can also be seen in relation to one’s personal internet traffic using the Explore feature of the IXmaps.ca internet mapping tool.
The study found that there was plenty of room for improvement among the 20 ISPs covered by the report. However, smaller, independent Canadian carriers scored better overall than larger incumbents. Independent provider TekSavvy earned more stars across more categories than other ISPs. Canadian ISPs were overall more transparent than the foreign carriers that handle domestic Canadian internet traffic. They generally don’t even acknowledge their compliance with Canadian privacy law, notably the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
The project was spearheaded by Prof. Andrew Clement and Dr. Jonathan Obar at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. Professor Clement explains that: “We’ve just seen that in 99% of Canadian Border Services Agency’s requests for subscriber information, telecom companies have turned this sensitive data over without a warrant. Internet providers must be accountable to the Canadian public for how they handle our personal information. ISPs that proactively demonstrate transparency can show leadership in the global battle for data privacy protection and bringing state surveillance under democratic governance.”
OpenMedia.ca, a community-based organization leading a 34,000-strong nationwide pro-privacy campaign, says the report has revealed that Canadians need better accountability from their ISPs, especially from the telecom giants.
“Canadians deserve to know whether their telecom provider has their back when it comes to how they protect your privacy,” says OpenMedia.ca Executive Director Steve Anderson. “Today’s report will make it easier for Canadians to make informed choices about which Internet provider to trust with their personal information. It’s clear from these detailed findings that smaller providers are more transparent about the measures they take to protect customer privacy – information customers need to assess which Internet provider is best for them.”
Anderson continued: “Nevertheless, all Internet providers have plenty of room for improvement. With so much of our private information now online, every Internet provider has a duty to safeguard Canadians from mass government surveillance – foreign and Canadian. They also need to be much more transparent about the extent of their cooperation with warrantless government spying – Canadians deserve to know exactly how often the government tries to invade their privacy, and exactly what their ISP is doing to protect them.”
The report makes a number of policy recommendations aimed at improving ISP transparency:
- ISPs should make public detailed information about their commitment to being transparent about when, why, and how they transfer private customer information to the state and other third parties.
- The federal Privacy Commissioner and CRTC should more closely oversee ISPs to ensure their data privacy transparency, and in particular that they only hand off Internet traffic to carriers with comparable privacy protections as those in Canadian privacy law.
- Legislators should reform privacy laws to include robust transparency norms.
The research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The views expressed are those of the authors alone.
OpenMedia.ca, Professor Andrew Clement and Dr. Jonathan Obar are part of the Protect our Privacy Coalition, which is calling for effective legal measures to protect the privacy of every resident of Canada against intrusion by government entities.
About the IXmaps.ca research project:
Since 2008, the IXmaps.ca project has worked to help internet users “see where your data packets go”, with the aim of raising public awareness of the privacy implications of internet data packet routing. In particular, the project has mapped the sites of likely NSA interception in the U.S., enabling users to see whether their internet traffic may have been captured. It has also documented the extensive Canadian “boomerang traffic” – internet communication that starts in Canada and ends in Canada, but which passes through the US where it is subject to NSA surveillance. The project has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and is affiliated with the New Transparency Project and the Information Policy Research Program at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto.
OpenMedia.ca is an award-winning network of people and organizations working to safeguard the possibilities of the open Internet. We work toward informed and participatory digital policy.
About OpenMedia.ca’s privacy campaign
OpenMedia.ca led the successful StopSpying.ca campaign that forced the government to back down on its plans to introduce a costly, invasive, and warrantless online spying law (Bill C-30). Nearly 150,000 Canadians took part in the campaign. To learn more, see this infographic.
On October 10, 2013 OpenMedia.ca collaborated with over 35 major organizations and over a dozen academic experts to form the Protect Our Privacy Coalition, which is the largest pro-privacy coalition in Canadian history. The Coalition is calling for effective legal measures to protect the privacy of every resident of Canada against intrusion by government entities.
OpenMedia.ca and the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) recently announced they will work together to put a stop to illegal government surveillance against law-abiding Canadians. OpenMedia.ca has launched a national campaign encouraging Canadians to support a BCCLA legal action which aims to stop illegal spying by challenging the constitutionality of the government’s warrantless collection of data on Canadians’ everyday Internet use.
Faculty of Information, University of Toronto
University of Toronto
- Telecom firms handed CBSA private customer data over 18,000 times last year without a warrant. Source: The Chronicle Herald
- Internet surveillance and boomerang routing: A call for Canadian network sovereignty – Source: Jonathan Obar and Andrew Clement
- IXmaps – Tracking your personal data through the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping sites, 2013 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS), Toronto, June 27-29, 2013. Source: Andrew Clement
- The murky state of Canadian telecommunications surveillance. Source: Christopher Parsons
- Proposed online spying bill would grant telecom firms immunity for handing over private information without a warrant. Source: Michael Geist
- Privacy experts ask telecoms if they’re helping the government spy on Canadians. Source: OpenMedia.ca
- New Snowden docs show U.S. spied during G20 in Toronto. Source: CBC News
- Five highlights from the Canada-Brazil spying revelations. [Source: The Globe and Mail]
- Privacy watchdog on spy agency’s data collection: ‘We want to find out more’. [Source: The Globe And Mail]
- Canada’s spy agency may have illegally targeted Canadians: watchdog. [Source: National Post]
- Inside Canada’s top-secret billion-dollar spy palace. [Source: CBC News.]
- Data breach protocols deficient in 9 federal departments, watchdog finds. – [Source: CBC News]
- Lawful Access back on the agenda this Fall? – Michael Geist.
- The secretive CSEC agency has a staff of more than 2,000 and a budget of about $400 million. [Source: CBC News]
- Surveillance expert Ron Deibert on the threat spy agencies pose for citizens.
- Internet Law expert Michael Geist on why Canadians should be concerned about government spying.
- Privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart says there are significant concerns about the scope of information that CSEC are reported to collect. [Source: CBC News]
- In this article, The Globe and Mail describes the revelations about Canadian government spying as “disturbing and unacceptable”
- This document, obtained by The Globe through Access to Information, shows how Minister MacKay authorized a top secret program to data-mine global ‘metadata’ in 2011.