Telecom giant Rogers got 175,000 official requests for customer info last year

Telecommunications giant Rogers Communications says it received almost 175,000 requests for information about customers from government and police agencies last year.

OTTAWA — Telecommunications giant Rogers Communications says it received almost 175,000 requests for information about customers from government and police agencies last year.

About half of the requests in 2013 were to confirm a customer’s name and address, Rogers says in a new report that comes amid public pressure on Internet and phone companies to divulge the extent of information sharing with government agencies.

Rogers says it responds to such requests — which totalled 87,856 last year — so police do not issue a warrant to the wrong person.

“When provided with a name and address we will confirm whether or not the person is a Rogers customer and when provided with a listed phone number we’ll provide the name and address of a customer.”

Otherwise, Rogers says, it provides customer information only when forced by law, or in emergencies, after the request has been thoroughly vetted.

The Criminal Code, the federal privacy law for companies, and rules set out by the federal broadcast regulator govern how the communications firm shares customer data with government and law enforcement agencies.

It receives requests from agencies including the RCMP, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada Border Services Agency, the Canada Revenue Agency, and provincial and municipal agencies like police forces and coroners.

Rogers received 74,415 requests in 2013 under a warrant or court order, including production orders, summons, subpoenas and search warrants issued by a judge or other judicial officer.

Such requests compel the company to provide customer information to police or other authorities or to attend court to provide testimony about customer information. Examples of information provided in these cases include account information like name and address, payment history, billing records or call records, the report says.

If it considers an order to be too broad, Rogers pushes back and, if necessary, goes to court to oppose the request, the report says.

However, it does not reveal how often that happens.

Rogers received 9,339 requests from police last year about life-threatening situations — such as missing-persons cases. In addition, there were 711 emergency requests for assistance to police in child sexual exploitation cases.

Rogers is the first major Canadian telecommunications company to issue a so-called transparency report on co-operation with law enforcement.

“Our customers’ privacy is important to us and that is why we are issuing this report,” Ken Engelhart, the company’s chief privacy officer, says in the report.

“We believe more transparency is helpful and encourage the government of Canada to issue its own report on these requests.

The release comes as civil libertarians and privacy advocates urge companies and governments to be more forthcoming about when and how customer data is shared.

A study by University of Toronto researchers recently gave low marks to Canada’s Internet service providers about how they handle customer information — including whether they routinely give personal data to spy agencies.

Rogers says it does not allow agencies direct access to its customer databases, nor does it hand over metadata — the routing codes and other data about emails and calls — without a warrant.

“We only provide the information we are required to provide and this information is retrieved by our staff.”

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