Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in the debate today and talk about what we have learned in the last few weeks from the Privacy Commissioner regarding how much information is being requested of government agencies and the frequency with which it is being requested. It is also about the backstops, what things are in place to ensure this stuff does not go unchecked. In a democracy we have Parliament and commissioners. We have a number of different backstops to ensure that people's information is protected.
We will be supporting today's motion. I have a similar motion before the privacy and ethics committee, because it is important that we dive into this issue in a bit more detail. It is quite troublesome to realize that when the Privacy Commissioner comes out with this type of information, she has no way of knowing if government agencies and telecommunication companies are following the rules and which government agency is involved.
I would like to quote an answer from the Prime Minister the other day because it is a bit out of step with what is actually happening. He said, “What we do understand is that various Canadian investigative law enforcement and other agencies...”. Let me pause there for a moment.
What other agencies are we talking about? Are we talking about the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency? How broad does this go into the Canadian government? Are we talking about DFO when it does surveillance activities? Are we talking about Service Canada when it requests information on clients? We really do not know, so we really need to dive into what other agencies we are talking about here. The Information Commissioner does not know. Canadians have a right to know what government agencies are asking for this information.
The Prime Minister continued on, “...from time to time, request information from telecom companies”. Time to time is hardly 1.2 million times. The statistics came from 2011. That would be every 26 seconds, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That is hardly from time to time. These agencies are asking for this information quite frequently and we need to know when and how and we need some oversight on these agencies.
The Prime Minister went on to say, “They always seek a warrant...”. That is not quite factually correct either. It gets to the heart of the matter here.
There are warrantless requests and warrant requests. The ones that have a warrant involve an agency going to a judge, the judge reviewing the information and then disclosing a warrant for that information. Then there are warrantless requests.
There are two facets to this particular debate. The Prime Minister has said that the government always seeks a warrant when required to do so and it expects telecommunication companies to respect the law in all of their dealings. That gets to the heart of this issue. Which requests need a warrant and which ones are warrantless? What oversight is there for the warrant side of things.
We put a lot of trust in our judicial system. We expect our judicial system to respect the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with regard to people's privacy when it comes to a warrant. I have limited knowledge of what judges go through. I think they do fair due diligence when it comes to complying with a request from law enforcement or another agency to grant a warrant. I have confidence in our system that judges do that.
Are there emergency circumstances from time to time that would require protecting the public from harm? Yes, and those are already dealt with in current legislation. Our current legislation is designed that way. If there is an immediate threat to life or national security, telecommunication companies are required to co-operate with law enforcement agencies without a warrant. We understand that. That is not where we are going with this. It is the staggering number of requests that have come in for this information that we are concerned about.
People listening to the debate might wonder what telecommunications companies we talking about. The commissioner revealed that she had asked 13 telecom and social media companies for information on how often they were getting requests. The 13 companies she asked, on the telecommunications side, were Bell, Telus, Rogers, Shaw, SaskTel, Globalive. On the social media and companies on the other side, there were Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Google, Twitter, eBay and RIM. Out of that, nine responded anonymously through their lawyer.
That runs a red flag up the flagpole. If they are being so open and accountable, why do they need to go through their lawyer to reveal this information to the Information Commissioner? Would they not want to be transparent and open about that? What is even more staggering is that out of the 13, 4 companies did not bother to respond at all to the Privacy Commissioner.
It goes to the point that our Privacy Commissioner needs to have the tools and the teeth to compel these companies to release this information to her so her office can make a judgment. This is really about oversight. There is no oversight and there is no court oversight. As I said earlier, we have to take it to the warrantless and warrant disclosures and really get to the bottom of this.
One of the things that we have talked about today, and I asked a question on it a bit earlier, is basic subscriber information from an ISP, Internet service provider. What basic information was allowed in this legislation when other legislation was put into force? What is being provided and how far does it go? I asked the question a minute ago and a member of the government said that it was name, address, phone number, email address and IP address. One's IP address is a pretty detailed piece of information about oneself, because it can detect a lot of information about where we go, what we send. I am no technogeek, nor do I know enough about technology, but I know an IP address is pretty substantial in the information it provides about a person.
Experts in this matter also say that it goes even further than that, that it goes into transmission data or metadata, as they call it, that it is not only this basic information but they are interpreting this to go beyond that basic information. I learned about metadata from an article I was reading this morning. I believe it was Mr. Geist who was the expert so I will credit him to where I learned it. With metadata, it is like saying to Canada Post, “What is the information on the outside of the envelope? Where is it going and whom it has come from”. That is what is also being provided on our basic information. It is communication to and from and at which time. That is some of the basic information they are requesting.
It goes a bit deeper than that, and that is why we need to support this motion. We need to continue this debate and really get an understanding of the facets of this. As parliamentarians and as people protecting the public interest, we cannot just take the word of government or of our law enforcement agency. There need to be some checks and balances into this. All members should genuinely think this is very worthwhile issue to dive into to find out what is going on. I would be the first one to admit that hopefully it is all above board. Hopefully, the information it is providing on warrant is being done in a truthful and open manner and on the warrantless side of things as well. We should not hide under the guise of public safety and all that. It is our due diligence to really dive into this issue.
Another thing brought up this morning was the privacy bill that was in the Senate. There is a lot we could talk about that is coming forward in that legislation, but we should not confuse this issue today with the legislation before the Senate. These are two separate types of information and two separate things altogether. We should be very careful not to combine the two and muddy the waters.
The motion before us today is pretty clear. It talks about making public the number of warrantless disclosures made by telecommunications companies, the requests from federal departments and agencies and closing the loophole that allows indiscriminate disclosure of personal information.
The motion is pretty specific and something that needs further study. I hope we can study it before the privacy committee as well to see if it warrants more investigation and legislation.
It is a pleasure to support this motion and I hope all members do so.