It’s different here in Canada… at least for now.
Back in October of 2012, we took the fight for our customer’s privacy all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and, in March of this year, the decision was announced – we won. It involved a highly unusual court order, which raised concerns with the team at TELUS about customer privacy. It is a complex case, but at its core we had been ordered by a court to turn over the content of text messages between two customers every day, as little as three hours after they were sent.
The court order involved a general warrant, which requires less evidence to obtain than the wire tap warrant police forces would get to tap one of our customer’s phone lines. We argued the order amounted to a virtual wiretap – materially the same as listening in on a private conversation – and thus should require a wiretap warrant. Obtaining a wiretap authorization involves a more rigorous legal process due to the more invasive nature of tapping a private conversation vs. obtaining historical records.
TELUS regularly assists law enforcement agencies in obtaining customer information they need for an investigation – but only when TELUS is ordered by a court to do so. That ensures police have the tools they need to do their job, but the court oversight also protects our customers’ privacy. We never voluntarily turn over customer information.
TELUS is also subject to strict legal obligations with respect to customer privacy (in the form of the confidentiality provisions in our Terms of Service and customer contracts and the requirements of the federal PIPEDA law) and we must comply with those obligations when we respond to requests by law enforcement agencies for access to confidential customer information.
Regulation and law aside, TELUS is a leader in Canada when it comes to privacy and security because it is the right thing to do for our customers. In fact, TELUS has been invited to join a senior advisory committee made up of Canadian executives who will provide strategic guidance to senior government officials advising the Prime Minister on the issue of cyber security.
So, in this case, TELUS sought clarification from the courts when we were concerned about balancing the values of personal privacy and effective law enforcement. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in TELUS’ favour, thereby strengthening privacy protections for all Canadians.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, sent a letter of compliment to Mr. Entwistle, applauding TELUS’ effort to strengthen privacy protections for citizens across Canada. In it she stated: “As the right upon which our freedoms are based, privacy is deserving of the most rigorous protection. In today’s day and age of electronic communication it is especially vital for technology leaders to commit to the protection of customer privacy and to enforce customer awareness of how their information is used.”
The Canadian government needs to take a hard look at this important issue and ensure that Canadians’ privacy expectations continue to be met; especially if a U.S. communications company sets up shop here. Some U.S. laws, such as Patriot Act, can be quite invasive and could have detrimental impacts on the level of privacy experienced by Canadian wireless users.