In the wake of the Snowden revelations about NSA surveillance, recent calls for greater data privacy recommend that internet service providers (ISPs) be more forthcoming about their handling of our personal information.
Report lifts the curtain on how Internet providers protect privacy, giving Canadians an at-a-glance tool to rate their provider’s transparency
Responding to this concern as well as in keeping with the transparency, openness and accountability principles fundamental to Canadian privacy law, this report evaluates the data privacy transparency of twenty of the most prominent ISPs (aka carriers) currently serving the Canadian public. We award ISPs up to ten ‘stars’ based on the public availability of the following information:
- A public commitment to PIPEDA compliance.
- A public commitment to inform users about all third party data requests.
- Transparency about frequency of third party data requests and disclosures.
- Transparency about conditions for third party data disclosures.
- An explicitly inclusive definition of ‘personal information’.
- The normal retention period for personal information.
- Transparency about where personal information is stored.
- Transparency about where personal information is routed.
- Publicly visible steps to avoid U.S. routing of Canadian data.
- Open advocacy for user privacy rights (such as in court and/or legislatively).
These criteria are designed to address on-going privacy and civil liberties concerns, especially in light of the controversial expansion of state surveillance of internet activities as well as recent ‘lawful access’ proposals, notably Bill C-30 and the current Bill C-13.
We selected the 20 ISPs in our sample based on their prevalence among the approximately 6000 internet traceroutes in the IXmaps.ca database (out of 25,000+ in total) that correspond to intra-Canadian routes – i.e. with origin and destination in Canada. The star ratings can be seen in the Star Table above. The full report contains the detailed assessments for each carrier.
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.