How Transparent are Canada’s ISPs?

In January 2014, 18 freedom of expression and civil liberties groups asked 16 of Canada’s major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disclose details of their data retention and sharing policies. 

Canada’s murky telecoms surveillance

On January 20, 2014, a letter was sent to 16 of Canada’s major Internet Service Providers that questions their data retention and sharing policies, specifically, how, when, and why they disclose information to government agencies. The letter was signed by PEN Canada and 17 other researchers and civil liberties organizations investigating Canadian privacy, security, and free speech issues and requested a response by March 3, 2014. The letter asked telecommunications carriers – including Bell, Rogers and Telus – how many information requests they received in 2012 and 2013 involving geolocation information, call detail records, the contents of text messages, voicemail, cell tower logs, wiretapping, subscriber information, metadata, and other types of data requests. The letter also asked them to detail who decides whether a request is accepted, how these requests are monitored, and what monetary compensation they receive from government agencies, if any. The data will allow researchers to compare surveillance practices in Canada and the US, as well as inform the development of policies that protect the privacy of Canadians. You can download the full version of the letter here.

As of March 6, 10 companies had responded. Citizen Lab postdoctoral fellow and author of the letter, Christopher Parsons, analyzed their responses.

The letter was sent to the following companies:

  • Bell Aliant
  • Bell Canada
  • COGECO Cable Inc.
  • Distributel Communications Ltd.
  • Eastlink
  • Fido Solutions
  • Globalive Wireless Management Corp (Wind)
  • MTS Allstream
  • Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc
  • Rogers Group of Companies
  • Sasktel
  • Shaw Media Inc.
  • TekSavvy Solutions Inc.
  • TELUS Communications Company
  • Videotron
  • Xplorenet Communications Inc.


  • Lisa Austin
    Associate Professor, Faculty of Law at University of Toronto
  • Colin Bennett
    Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Victoria
  • Andrew Clement
    Professor, Faculty of Information at University of Toronto
  • Ron Deibert
    Director, the Citizen Lab and the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies, Munk School of Global Affairs at University of Toronto
  • Robert Diab
    Law Professor, Faculty of Law at Thompson Rivers University
  • Michael Geist
    Canada Research Chair in Internet and E­commerce Law, Faculty of Law at University of Ottawa
  • Adam Molnar
    Postdoctoral Fellow, the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University
  • Christopher Parsons
    Postdoctoral Fellow, the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs at University of Toronto
  • Andrea Slane
    Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at University of Ontario
  • Valerie Steeves
    Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology at University of Ottawa
  • Kevin Walby
    Assistant Professor, Department of Criminal Justice at University of Winnipeg
  • Dwayne Winseck
    Professor, School of Journalism and Communication and Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University
  • The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
  • Samuel-Glushko Canadian internet Policy and Public Interest Centre
  • BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
  • PEN Canada

Photo credit: Lord Bullgod