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

Rogers Communications 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 Internet privacy.

OTTAWA — Rogers Communications 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 Internet 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 second 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 the notion 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 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. That allowed police to obtain a search or arrest warrant.

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

“There’s always a tradeoff between respecting your customers’ privacy and assisting law enforcement as a good corporate citizen,” said Ken Engelhart, Rogers’ chief privacy officer. “We want to do both things.”

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.

The Canadian Press reported in November that the RCMP had abandoned some investigations because of the new hurdle laid out in the court ruling.

The RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and Canadian Security Intelligence Service “are very concerned about the potentially unsustainable resource and operational fallout” from the June ruling, said an internal government memo released under the Access to Information Act.

Rogers had to begin applying its reading of the Supreme Court’s guidance on customer privacy, Engelhart said in an interview. Continuing to give authorities subscriber information without a warrant would no longer help nab criminals in any event.

“It seemed to us that in many cases, if carriers are liberal in handing information over to the police, the courts are simply not going to issue a conviction. They’re going to let the person go.”

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,” the report says.

The company opposed one request that would have involved 30,000 subscribers, it notes.

“While the request was withdrawn, we are pursuing the matter in court to ensure our customers’ rights are protected in the future.”

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