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Feds were worried as telecom firm planned to go public on police access to Canadians' phone calls and emails, memo shows

OTTAWA A move by telecommunications firms to be more forthcoming with the public about their role in police and spy surveillance could divulge sensitive operational details, a senior Public Safety official warned in a classified memo.

Company efforts to reveal more about police and intelligence requests even the disclosure of broad numbers would require extensive consultations with all relevant stakeholders, wrote Lynda Clairmont, senior assistant deputy minister for national and cybersecurity.

In the wake of blockbuster revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Canadas telecommunications companies are starting to pull back the curtains on their relationships with government authorities around the sharing of customer information.Rogers Communications Inc. on Thursday released what it called its 2013 Transparency Report, a brief four-page document detailing the number and types of requests the company has received, and the legal framework governing its response.

The Rogers report comes on the heels of similar disclosure from independent communications provider TekSavvy Solutions Inc. Other providers are expected to follow suit later this year.

Rogers said it received a total of 174,917 requests for information last year, or the equivalent of about 1.75% of the companys roughly 10 million individual customers.

Clairmont's note, released under the Access to Information Act, provided advice to deputy minister Francois Guimont on the eve of his one-hour April 17 meeting with representatives of Telus Corp. to discuss specifically what information the company was allowed to tell the public about electronic surveillance activities.

Telus released a so-called transparency report five months later, revealing it had received more than 103,000 official requests for information about subscribers in 2013.

Rogers Communications published a similar report in June three months before Telus becoming the first of the major Canadian telecom firms to issue one. Bell Canada, the other major company, has yet to release a report.

The internal Public Safety memo sheds new light on behind-the-scenes tensions between government officials and industry amid pressure from privacy advocates and civil libertarians for details of the scope and nature of law enforcement access to Canadians subscriber information, phone calls and email messages.

The demand for more transparency was fuelled by leaks from former American intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, whose significant disclosures revealed the U.S. National Security Agency had access to a huge volume of telecommunications data.

The revelations prompted a flurry of questions about the activities of the NSAs Canadian counterpart, the Communications Security Establishment, as well as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP.

We recognize that transparency is key to giving Parliament and Canadians confidence in our ability

The Public Safety Department is committed to protecting the security of Canadians while respecting their privacy, Clairmont wrote in her April 16 memo to Guimont, stamped Secret/Canadian Eyes Only.

We recognize that transparency is key to giving Parliament and Canadians confidence in our ability to meet both these objectives, but must continue to ensure that sensitive operational details remain protected.

There was a need to evaluate whether such details could be revealed even through mass aggregate reporting of data, she added.

A month before Teluss scheduled meeting with Guimont, the company said it was prohibited from disclosing certain information by a governing document known as Solicitor Generals Enforcement Standards for Lawful Interception of Telecommunications.

In a letter to Christopher Parsons of the University of Torontos Citizen Lab, a digital rights body, Telus privacy officer Heather Hawley said the company would ask the government to clarify and limit the scope of current confidentiality requirements and to consider measures to facilitate greater transparency.

Neither Telus and Public Safety would make anyone available to answer questions about their discussions.

Rogers spokesman Kevin Spafford said the company did not talk with the government about its June transparency report before it was published.

The report said Rogers received almost 175,000 requests for customer information from government and police agencies last year. Of those, 74,415 were made under a warrant or court order, including production orders, summons, subpoenas and search warrants issued by a judge or other judicial officer.

In deciding what to disclose in its transparency report, the company abided by just one restriction, Ken Engelhart, chief privacy officer for Rogers, said at the time.

The only legal restraint is that you can't even give a number of wireless interceptions that you do that's like a wiretap, but it's a wireless tap, Engelhart said in an interview.

It was important to get a transparency report out, he continued.

I'm hopeful it won't bother the law enforcement people, but if it does, we thought that the needs of our customers came first.

Via - news.nationalpost.com