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Let’s Talk: Bell won’t about cops snooping on customers

Company has released zero transparency reports so far, versus three each for Rogers and Telus.

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Snooping on Customers:

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Rogers earned some praise from consumer groups last week for releasing its third annual Transparency Report, which details the number and volume of requests from government and law enforcement for customer information.

While the company disclosed the sought-after info in the vast majority of cases – 83,871 out of a total 86,328 requests – there were two bright sides.

One is that the total number of requests was down significantly from 2014, from 113,655. The other is that this was the first time Rogers disclosed how many times it actually disclosed information and how many times it refused.

The first decrease is the result of a Supreme Court ruling in June, 2014, which banned telecom providers from handing over subscriber information voluntarily. The second part looks to be a voluntary move by Rogers.

Internet advocacy group Open Media called the improved transparency a step in the right direction.

“This type of reporting is essential if we are to shed light on the government’s attempts to obtain our private information,” the group said in a release.

The report closely follows similar disclosures from Telus. The company in April released its own report, also its third, which showed a decrease in the overall number of information requests from government organizations.

Simple customer name and address checks indeed dropped from 30,946 in 2014 to zero last year. Unlike Rogers, however, Telus did not break down how many times it disclosed information versus how many times it refused, though the company did say it challenged or refused about 15 per cent of requests.

Transparency reports have become standard operating procedure in the technology and telecom industries since Edward Snowden’s revelations about how governments and law enforcement agencies spy on citizens. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and others are now routinely releasing numbers.

One notable exception to the trend is Bell Canada, the only national wireless carrier in Canada that has not yet issued a transparency report. When asked why, a spokesperson for the company replied with a terse emailed statement:

“Bell protects customer privacy by complying with all federal privacy laws, CRTC regulations and our own strict privacy policy in dealing with information requests from government and law enforcement.”

Aside from wondering why Bell continues to hold out, privacy-minded customers may want to ask themselves a few questions in regards to their continued patronage of the company:

  • Does Bell take customer privacy seriously, and if so, what specifically is the company doing to uphold it?
  • How often does Bell disclose subscriber information to authorities?
  • Does the company ever refuse, and if so, on what grounds?
  • Do Bell’s competitors have a competitive advantage in being more straight up about information disclosure, and if so, is that a strong enough reason to switch to them?
  • Should Bell’s lack of disclosure be a factor in the company’s attempted takeover of Manitoba’s MTS, which does issue a transparency report?

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