Warrantless disclosure troubling: Gadhia

Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia says it’s troubling that the personal telecom information of more than 800,000 Canadians has been given to government agencies, in many cases without a warrant.

“The idea that personal conversations, text messages and content is being provided voluntarily by the telecom companies is worrisome,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“It’s one thing to co-operate with the authorities – it’s quite another to release this information to the state agencies without a proper production order in place.”

Gadhia makes the comments after Canada’s acting privacy commissioner made public that telecom companies have refused to disclose how often they release confidential customer information to the federal government without a warrant, reports the Canadian Press.

Chantal Bernier says her office has repeatedly asked telecom companies to disclose statistics and the scope of warrantless disclosure of data, but to no avail, the article states.

It remains unclear how many of those requests are made without a warrant, but figures provided to the office in late 2011 reveal that wireless telecom companies complied with the government’s requests for customer data at least 784,756 times, says the Canadian Press.

However, the actual total is likely even greater, since only three of nine telecom companies told the commissioner’s office how many times they granted the government’s requests for customer data, the news service reports.

Gadhia notes that many people may feel that in a post-9/11 society the government has an obligation to be vigilant, but she cautions that the release of private information without proper production orders is problematic.

“If it starts with a desire to protect against terrorism, then where does it stop and who will it target?” she asks. “Our freedoms are slowly being chipped away and it’s being done in secrecy. We must ask ourselves why. Why put a wall around the privacy commissioner limiting her ability to get answers?”

Gadhia says the issue raises serious concerns about government transparency.

“Government should not be entitled to have this level of scrutiny into our lives without just cause,” she says. “The consequences to a person’s privacy, the violation of Charter rights, the right not to be searched illegally, all lending itself to the idea of Big Brother eroding the rights of citizens under the guise of security concerns is a slippery slope.”

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