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Telus pushes back on general warrants

Posted by Matt on September 23, 2013         Tagged with: tech, surveillance, internet

Michael Power has an excellent blog post up on what he's calling the "privacy case of the year". R v. Telus was decided in March of this year and concerns the use by the police of general warrants to access the text messages of suspects. This is yet another topic which is deserving of a longer blog post, but since I leave for vacation in 8 hours and I still haven't packed yet, for now I'm just going to advise you to check out Michael's post and point out part of the judgment which will be of special interest to Telus customers.

Here's the case summary:

Unlike most telecommunications service providers, TELUS Communications Company routinely makes electronic copies of all the text messages sent or received by its subscribers and stores them on a computer database for a brief period of time. The police in this case obtained a general warrant and related assistance order under ss. 487.01 and 487.02 of the Criminal Code requiring Telus to provide the police with copies of any stored text messages sent or received by two Telus subscribers. The relevant part of the warrant required Telus to produce any messages sent or received during a two‑week period on a daily basis. Telus applied to quash the general warrant arguing that the prospective, daily acquisition of text messages from their computer database constitutes an interception of private communications and therefore requires authorization under the wiretap authorization provisions in Part VI of the Code. The application was dismissed. The focus of the appeal is on whether the general warrant power can authorize the prospective production of future text messages from a service provider’s computer.

Wait, what was that part about Telus keeping copies of all text messages? Paragraph 7 of the full judgment has a bit more information about this:

Unlike most telecommunications service providers, Telus routinely makes electronic copies of all the text messages sent or received by its subscribers and stores them on a computer database for a period of 30 days. Text messages that are sent by a Telus subscriber are copied to the computer database during the transmission process at the point in time when the text message enters Telus’ transmission infrastructure. Text messages received by a Telus subscriber are copied to the computer database when the Telus subscriber’s phone receives the message. In many instances, this system results in text messages being copied to the computer database before the recipient’s phone has received the text message and/or before the intended recipient has read the text message.

Telus customers, did you know that Telus keeps copies of all your text messages for 30 days? Now you do! But at least they also push back against overbroad warrants. And sure, their system administrators probably have access to that huge database of personal communications because their job requires it. But don't worry, it's not like there have been any recent cases of huge databases of personal information being accessed for inappropriate reasons.