Telecom lawful access numbers not reliable

On Tuesday Canada’s privacy commissioner revealed (subscribers only) that government agencies made nearly 1.2 million requests for subscriber information from telecom companies per year, yet the companies’ different methods of tracking such requests and various qualifications mean the real number may be substantially different.

According to a letter sent to Canada’s privacy commissioner by a law firm representing the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) in 2011 and made public for the first time on Tuesday, the aggregate number of subscriber information requests is tracked at some companies by the number of affected customers, at another by the number of records produced, and at another by the province where the request originates.

One provider gave only the number of responses it made to the government agencies, not the number of requests made.

The letter itself noted that the 1.2 million could include duplicates, omissions or overlaps.

Some media reports have claimed that the 1.2 million represents the total number of requests for data in 2011, yet this is not stated explicitly anywhere in the letter. The law firm, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP,  calls the number an “aggregate average,” but an average of what? This data appears to only apply to 2011, which would mean that it does represent the total number of requests for that year, except that number is not an average but rather an aggregate.

Of the nine companies that provided data on the number of government requests, only three provided the number of users or accounts that were subject to disclosure, which added up to 784,756. So nine companies received nearly 1.2 million requests, maybe, while three companies provided 785,000 responses, probably, on an unknown number of users. One company said the average number of subscribers per request was 1.74, meaning requests included multiple people more often than not.

The absolute numbers are the first look Canadians have had at the scope of so-called lawful access, but they are far from illuminating.

None of the telecom companies that responded in the letter broke down the requests by those made without a warrant, for which only basic subscriber information such as such as name, addresses and phone numbers can be released, and those made with a warrant, which can allow law enforcement agencies to track cellphones and monitor call logs.

The government’s anti-cyberbullying legislation now before Parliament extends protection for telecom companies in data sharing, providing immunity to all civil and criminal liability for those who hand over information requested by law enforcement or public agencies.

All nine organizations said in the 2011 letter that they did not notify customers when their information was handed over, even if the law allows it.

In March, the government made public limited information on lawful access requests for subscriber data at several agencies that showed it received data on 18,849 requests between April 2012 and March 2013, the overwhelming majority of which were for basic subscriber information that is accessible without a warrant.

According to the CWTA, all communication to the companies was done by the law firm, and the CWTA has no more information on lawful access than was included in the 2011 letter.

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CBC Sports intro before hockey games could disappear

Something that has struck me about all of the changes happening lately with CBC is the possible loss of those few seconds before the start of a hockey game when the CBC Sports introduction comes on.

That intro has changed over the years, but it has generally included some dramatic music and a voice that lets you know you are about to witness a live presentation of CBC Sports.

This is what I would call, perhaps, the classic version of what I am talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VamhLhF44lU.

As the NHL playoffs take place over the next few months, this, or a version of it, is something many of us will get used to hearing.

It’s something that never explicitly tells you what sporting event you are about to watch. Yet, if you are a hockey fan sitting down to watch a big game, it implicitly tells you exactly what you are about to see because you were already thinking about it and anticipating the moment.

It’s something that sticks in my memory as a kid in the 1980s when I would tune in to see how my heroes on the Edmonton Oilers, such as Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, would fare that night in their quest to win another game on their way to another Stanley Cup.

In my adult years, when I adopted the hometown Ottawa Senators as my favourite team, that intro would continue to be the dividing line between what was the previous part of the day and game time, particularly in the playoffs. Not that I’m going to see much of the Senators or the Oilers in this year’s playoffs.

I have a Pavlovian response to that intro. Everything beyond my TV and my beer seems to disappear when it comes on.

CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said by email that the CBC Sports intro will live on, citing plans to use it for upcoming events such as the FIFA World Cup this summer, the 2015 Pan Am Games and the Rio Summer Olympics in 2016.

Yet, he couldn’t say whether it would continue to be used for Hockey Night in Canada after this season.

As most people who follow the broadcasting industry know, Rogers Communications Inc. has exclusive rights to national broadcasts of NHL games in Canada starting in the 2014-15 season as part of a 12-year, $5.2-billlion deal announced (subscribers only) in November.

Hockey Night in Canada will continue to live on CBC for at least the next four years as part of a sub-licensing agreement with Rogers. Yet, besides having advertising rights to such broadcasts, Rogers will also have control over all content related to that programming, noted Thompson.

It’s hard to imagine why Rogers would place the CBC Sports intro at the beginning of hockey games when it has more of an interest in promoting its own brand.

But with that comes the end of what had become a big part of my NHL hockey experience, even more so than the Hockey Night in Canada theme song that was lost to TSN six years ago.

It’s a pretty trivial concern of mine, I concede, in comparison to the job losses faced by about 650 CBC employees over the next few years, as detailed in the broadcaster’s announcement this week.

Still, CBC has been an aspect of many people’s lives for several years, in ways sometimes taken for granted by those who are affected. As the government-owned broadcaster undergoes a profound transformation in the coming years, it’s my guess that many Canadians will find, whether they were big fans of the CBC or not, little things about the broadcaster that once brought them a certain degree of comfort will have vanished.

Here’s hoping that what results from all these changes at the public broadcaster make it worth it in the end.

Derek Abma is editor of The Wire Report. He can be reached at dabma@thewirereport.ca.

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