Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Disclosure of 'Sensitive' Telecom Surveillance Details Worried Feds: Memo

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Disclosure of 'Sensitive' Telecom Surveillance Details Worried Feds: Memo

Article excerpt

'Sensitive' surveillance figures worried feds

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OTTAWA - A move by telecommunications firms to be more forthcoming with the public about their role in police and spy surveillance could divulge "sensitive operational details," a senior Public Safety official warned in a classified memo.

Company efforts to reveal more about police and intelligence requests -- even the disclosure of broad numbers -- would require "extensive consultations with all relevant stakeholders," wrote Lynda Clairmont, senior assistant deputy minister for national and cybersecurity.

Clairmont's note, released under the Access to Information Act, provided advice to deputy minister Francois Guimont on the eve of his one-hour April 17 meeting with representatives of Telus Corp. to discuss specifically what information the company was allowed to tell the public about electronic surveillance activities.

Telus released a so-called "transparency report" five months later, revealing it had received more than 103,000 official requests for information about subscribers in 2013.

Rogers Communications published a similar report in June -- three months before Telus -- becoming the first of the major Canadian telecom firms to issue one. Bell Canada, the other major company, has yet to release a report.

The internal Public Safety memo sheds new light on behind-the-scenes tensions between government officials and industry amid pressure from privacy advocates and civil libertarians for details of the scope and nature of law enforcement access to Canadians' subscriber information, phone calls and email messages.

The demand for more transparency was fuelled by leaks from former American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, whose significant disclosures revealed the U.S. National Security Agency had access to a huge volume of telecommunications data.

The revelations prompted a flurry of questions about the activities of the NSA's Canadian counterpart, the Communications Security Establishment, as well as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP.

The Public Safety Department is committed to protecting the security of Canadians while respecting their privacy, Clairmont wrote in her April 16 memo to Guimont, stamped "Secret/Canadian Eyes Only. …

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