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New Report Shows Most Canadian ISPs Are Not Transparent About User Privacy

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

If the results of a new study are to be believed, most Canadian Internet Service Providers are doing an extremely poor job of being transparent about protecting the privacy of their customers. The study entitled “Keeping Internet Users in the Know or in the Dark” was conducted by Prof. Andrew Clement (University of Toronto) and Dr. Jonathan Obar (University of Ontario Institute of Technology) along with a bunch of law students and was published by Canadian privacy groups The New Transparency Project and IXmaps.ca.

To carry out the study, Clement and Obar analyzed 43 telecom companies and ISPs operating within Canada. Telcos included in the study were analyzed and ranked on the basis of 10 different privacy and transparency parameters including whether or not they informed the customers when their personal information was being sought by the third parties, under what circumstances the ISPs agreed to release information, whether or not they avoided routing personal information of Canadian citizens outside the country, whether the ISPs informed the customers’ where their private information was being stored and processed as well as whether or not the ISP favored user privacy rights.

Ontario based ISP TekSavvy Solutions topped the chart by scoring 6 out of the maximum possible 10 stars and performing particularly well on transparency parameters. At the other end of the spectrum were service providers like ACN, Koodo, Fido, Virgin Mobile and Shaw which scored less than three stars (with Acanac scoring a zero) which shows how most Canadian ISPs were consistent in not being transparent about customer privacy. And considering that the provider which topped the list scored only 6 stars, even the ISPs which care about user privacy are not doing enough of being transparent about protecting customer privacy.

The report also highlights how ISPs are compromising the privacy of Canadian citizens by routing internet traffic outside the country. As per reliable estimates, about a quarter of Canadian internet traffic actually gets routed through a different country, mostly through United States. Once the traffic is routed through U.S., it is no longer bound by Canadian privacy laws and is likely to be intercepted by NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs. Since most Canadian ISPs do not disclose whether they are diverting internet traffic outside the country, they actually jeopardizing the privacy of Canadian internet users.

The report urges CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) to enforce privacy rules in a better way and also recommends that ISPs must stop routing traffic through United States in order to preserve the privacy of users. Obar notes how some service providers are pushing for privacy by publishing the total number of requests received for the disclosure of personal information. He also added that while the information released by Canadian ISPs is still miniscule especially when compared with what is being disclosed by the American service providers, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction. TekSavvy, Rogers and Telus have already started issuing transparency reports and the report expressed optimism that more ISPs would follow suit.

August 12, 2015

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