A hint at the extent of warrantless access to customer data in Canada
Earlier this week, the Halifax Chronicle Herald published a story about information that has come to light about the extent to which law enforcement agencies are seeking -- and getting -- access to private information without a warrant. (See Ottawa has been spying on you | The Chronicle Herald [link in blog post])
MP Charmaine Borg tabled a question in Parliament looking for particulars about how often government agencies look for and get information about customers of telecommunications services. Perhaps not surprisingly, CSIS and CSE refused to answer. The RCMP refused to provide information, saying it does not track this information. The full document is available here [PDF].
What is most interesting about the document is the extent that the Canadian Border Services Agency, the organization that polices Canada's borders, asked for and received telco customer information without a warrant. It happened over 18,000 times and telcos refused only a handful of times, mainly if they didn't have the information requested.
If I had been asked which government agencies seek warrantless access to customer data, I would have put CBSA pretty low on the list and would think they would represent a drop in the bucket. If that's the case, and the "drop in the bucket" is 18,000 requests, we must be looking at a VERY LARGE bucket.
What's also troubling is that unless charges are laid, nobody ever finds out that their information has been obtained by law enforcement. And, in fact, there's a gag order that would prevent you from getting that information from your telco. I highly doubt that CBSA laid 18,000 charges last year, so there are thousands of Canadians whose information has been accessed and they will never know about it.
Not surprisingly, some of the best analysis of this comes from Chris Parsons, a post-doctoral fellow at the CitizenLab at the University of Toronto. Read his full discussion of this here: Mapping the Canadian Government’s Telecommunications Surveillance https://citizenlab.org/2014/03/mapping-canadian-governments-telecommunications-surveillance/1/