Rogers sees drop in customer info requests from police, security agencies

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Rogers Communications says it saw a sharp drop in the number of requests for customer information from government and police agencies last year — a result of swelling public concern and a landmark court ruling on telecommunications privacy.

Rogers received fewer than 114,000 such requests for subscriber information in 2014, down from almost 175,000 the previous year, the company said in its annual transparency report released Thursday.

Last summer, Rogers said it would no longer routinely give basic customer information to police and security agencies without a warrant.

The move followed a key Supreme Court of Canada ruling as well as concerns voiced by subscribers, the telecom provider said at the time.

Last June, the Supreme Court ruled police need judicial authorization to get personal information about customers from Internet providers. The high court rejected arguments that claimed the federal privacy law governing companies allowed them to hand over subscriber identities voluntarily.

The court judgment came amid growing public concern about authorities quietly gaining access to customer information with little obvious scrutiny or oversight.

Rogers says that prior to the court ruling, it was company policy to confirm basic customer information like name and address, so that police didn’t issue a warrant for the wrong person or company.

Rogers also had a special process in place to help with child sexual exploitation investigations by confirming a customer’s name and address when provided with a computer’s Internet Protocol (IP) address. This would allow police to obtain a search or arrest warrant.

Since June, the company says, it has responded to these two kinds of requests when presented with a court order or warrant, or in emergency circumstances as defined by the Criminal Code.

“We believe this approach protects our customers while allowing law enforcement agencies to continue safeguarding the public,” the report says.

The company’s mid-year policy shift had a dramatic impact, the figures released Thursday show.

The number of requests for customer name or address checks dropped to fewer than 30,000 in 2014 from almost 88,000 the previous year. The number of assistance requests in child exploitation cases fell to 384 from 711 in 2013.

Rogers provided no customer information 2,278 times last year.

“If we consider an order to be too broad, we push back and, if necessary, go to court to oppose the request,” Rogers chief privacy officer Ken Engelhart says in the report.

The company opposed one request that would have involved 30,000 subscribers, Engelhart says.

“While the request was withdrawn, we are pursuing the matter in court to ensure our customers’ rights are protected in the future.”

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

© The Canadian Press, 2015

Comment on this story