Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
I'll call to order our meeting of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.
We're here today to deal with the main estimates for a series of officers of Parliament. I welcome them here today. It's rarer than hen's teeth, kind of like spotting a whooping crane, to see an officer of Parliament before our committee, so it's a great treat for us.
The way we're going to conduct ourselves is this. We'll introduce the subject by saying that we are here to deal with vote 1 of the main estimates for the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying. I believe it's vote 1 and vote 5 under the offices of the information and privacy commissioners of Canada.
For the first hour we're going to welcome Ms. Karen Shepherd, from the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying.
Ms. Chantal Bernier, of course, is the Interim Privacy Commissioner from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
That opens the subject. We'll give the floor to our two witnesses and then allow questioning afterwards. The way we have it in order on our agenda is the Office of the Privacy Commissioner first.
Ms. Bernier, would you like to take five or ten minutes to speak to the main estimates of your department? Welcome.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, everyone.
Thank you for your invitation to discuss our main estimates for fiscal year 2014-15.
Joining me today is Daniel Nadeau, our chief financial officer and director general of corporate services, along with Maureen Munhall, our director of human resources.
In my time today I want to outline our financial situation, then discuss some of the key challenges we face pursuing our mandate and explaining the actions we have taken to maximize the effectiveness of our resources in order to continually enhance service to Canadians.
Let us begin with our financial situation.
Looking at the numbers, you see a decrease in our resources of nearly $5 million. This is due to two key factors. First, our 2013-14 budget reflected a one-time injection to cover the costs of the mandatory move of our headquarters from downtown Ottawa to Gatineau. This injection came in the form of a $4.1 million interest-free loan, one which we are repaying Treasury Board Secretariat over the next 15 years, starting this year with a payment near $300,000.
The other factor accounting for the decrease is a planned reduction under the deficit reduction action plan. While we were not mandated to make reductions under the plan, in the spirit of collegiality, our office answered the call to adhere to its intent. As a result, we have implemented savings of 5% or $1.1 million per year within our total budget as of this fiscal year. This began with $700,000 reduction per year starting in 2012-13 and an additional $400,000 takes effect this year.
While I'm proud of our contributions to the deficit reduction action plan, it comes at a time when privacy matters continue to be of wide interest to the public. We must ensure that we maintain our level of excellence in this context of reduced resources and increased interest.
We saw the same percentage increase in complaints about federal organizations under the Privacy Act, accepting 1,675, more than 300 of which related to a breach regarding Health Canada's medical marijuana access program. The year before, we accepted 2,273 complaints, nearly one third of which related to the loss of ESDC's student loan hard drive. After subtracting complaints related to these high-profile incidents, we still see a jump of just more than 17% in the public sector.
Added to this, we are faced with a growing number of data breach reports. From business we saw a year-over-year 81% increase of breach reports from private sector organizations. Meanwhile, breach reports from federal organizations more than doubled, to 228. That marks a record high for a third year running.
From these numbers, we must not jump to the conclusion that breaches are increasing. More likely, we may be witnessing an increase in notification, which in fact would be an improvement in compliance.
To continue serving Canadians with excellence, but with no additional resources, as the volume and complexity of our work increases, we have adopted the following measures. In the face of rising data breaches, we implemented a calibrated approach by which we meet each incident with a response tailored to its severity. Under this approach, we determine severity on the basis of the organization's demonstrated accountability along with the risk of harm to individuals.
We have worked to modernize our investigation processes, enabling a proportional approach that matches the appropriate tool per issue we face.
We leverage our domestic and international partnerships to expand our enforcement capacity and achieve more expedient and effective results. We did this with the Dutch data protection authority in relation to an investigation of WhatsApp and are now doing the same with our Irish counterpart on an investigation of Facebook.
We undertake informal activities promoting broad-based compliance, such as the international privacy sweep which we spearheaded last year, promoting 40 organizations to significantly boost their privacy transparency in response to our office's concerns.
We are also developing guidance to share best practices and promote compliance.
Finally, we conduct formal investigations and audits on systemic matters when necessary.
We have made greater use of our early resolution process to resolve complaints, with an increase of 15% in relation to the private sector and 10% in relation to the public sector. This serves to resolve matters to the satisfaction of both the complainant and respondent while forgoing the need for a resource-intensive investigation.
In 2013, we reduced the average treatment time to conclude PIPEDA complaints from 12.6 months to 6.7 months, for a 47% improvement. Under the Privacy Act, the average treatment decreased to 6.1 months, down from 6.8 months in the previous year.
We have also made greater efforts to triage and prioritize the review of privacy impact assessments from federal organizations. These assessments are required under federal policy for any new initiative making use of personal information for decision-making.
We are focusing on initiatives holding the highest significance for the right to privacy of Canadians, ensuring that those with the biggest possible risks receive the greatest attention. As an example, we have struck an internal task force to look specifically at initiatives under the “Beyond the Border” action plan, which involves a multitude of programs with possible privacy impacts on Canadians.
In sum, we face challenges brought forth by the nature and volume of our work amidst a tighter fiscal context, and we are doing so determined to continue meeting the needs of Canadians.
We have developed, and will continue to develop, new ways to make the most efficient use of our resources to do just that. The statistics I just mentioned on our increased workload as well as our recent reports to Parliament—on oversight for the Canadian intelligence community, for example, or on the loss of the student loan hard drive, or our prominent report on findings in relation to Google of online behavioural advertising—demonstrate that we are pursuing our work at a continued high level, with unwavering dedication, under resource pressures.
I wish to take this opportunity to publicly recognize the remarkable hard work and innovativeness of the OPC staff who make this possible.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you. I forward to your questions. Merci.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I am pleased to be here today to discuss the main estimates 2014-15 for the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying. I would also like to take this opportunity to touch upon my mandate and outline a few of my priorities for this fiscal year.
I am joined today by René Leblanc, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Financial Officer.
My mandate is threefold. I must maintain a registry of lobbyists, develop and implement educational programs to foster awareness of the act, and ensure compliance with the act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
The 2014-15 main estimates are $4.4 million, which is essentially the same amount as last year. However, since I became commissioner in 2008, demands for more accountability and reporting have been steadily growing. In addition, cost containment measures announced in 2010 have forced my office to absorb salary increases over the last three fiscal years.
In 2011 I conducted a strategic and operating review. This review resulted in a 5% budget reduction starting in 2013-14. I minimized the impact of this reduction by postponing the development of new features in the registration system and by limiting the use of external consultants. System maintenance, however, will continue to be a priority.
The recent government announcement that operating budgets will be frozen for the next two fiscal years will further increase pressures on my ability to deliver my mandate. However, with the efficiencies I have put in place, I believe I can manage.
Of the total 2014-15 main estimates, operating expenditures, including salaries, represent $4 million. The remaining $400,000 is for the employee benefits plan, which is a statutory vote. Salaries represent about 63% of my operating budget. I have a complement of 28 employees. The remaining 37% is for non-salary spending.
The first program I would like to talk about is the registration of lobbyists. This program maintains the online, public registry of lobbyists and provides guidance and support to registrants. The registry is the primary source of information on who is lobbying federal public office holders and about which topics.
This year, my priority for the registration unit is to improve the timeliness of monthly communication reports filed by lobbyists. I believe that transparency is hindered when communications between lobbyists and designated public office holders are reported late. I intend to monitor the situation more closely and to further educate lobbyists about the requirements of the act in this regard.
The education of lobbyists, their clients, and public officer holders is also an important component of my mandate. This is how people are made aware of the act, the code, and their requirements. I believe compliance with the act and the code will be improved through increased awareness. My staff and I meet regularly with lobbyists, public office holders, parliamentarians, as well as academics to help them understand the act and the lobbyists' code of conduct. In 2013-14 we met with more than 1,000 stakeholders. I intend to continue these types of activities.
This year my priority in terms of education will relate primarily to the lobbyists' code of conduct. A consultation process with stakeholders took place between September and December of 2013. I received written submissions from a range of stakeholders, and I held a number of round tables to solicit views on the code. I plan to issue a report on the results of the consultation by the end of May.
The third component of my mandate is to ensure compliance with the act and the code. I do this through a number of compliance activities, including reviews and formal investigations.
Since becoming commissioner, I have initiated more than 100 administrative reviews. I have tabled 10 Reports on Investigation in Parliament, finding that 12 lobbyists breached the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. I have made 11 referrals to the RCMP when I had reasonable grounds to believe that an offence had occurred.
In July of 2013, there was an historic first conviction for a breach under the Lobbying Act. An individual was fined $7,500 for failing to register his lobbying activities. The act provides me with the authority to prohibit an individual from lobbying for up to two years if convicted of an offence under the act. I decided in this case to prohibit the individual from lobbying for a period of four months.
My priority for the compliance program is to develop a more strategic approach to compliance verification. I will do this by conducting activities such as compliance audits and analyzing lobbying performed in various sectors of the economy. I also plan on improving efficiency by implementing an automated case management system to help manage compliance files.
Finally, internal services support the programs and other corporate obligations of my organization. Approximately two-thirds of the internal services expenditure is for support services secured through formal agreements with other government institutions. This strategy offers access to a broad range of expertise that I need to meet my accountabilities as deputy head.
This year I plan to implement a segregated computer network within my office. This network will not be connected to the Internet and will enhance the security of sensitive information, particularly as it relates to compliance files. This segregated network will provide an ideal platform to implement the case management system I mentioned earlier.
I want to close by saying that I am proud of the work my office has done over the last few years. I have assembled a dedicated team of professionals and I continually strive to allocate my resources in a manner that allows me to deliver my mandate as efficiently and as effectively as possible.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks. I look forward to answering any questions you and the committee members may have.
Absolutely. I'll give you an example of how we leverage national partnerships.
There are three provinces that have their own private sector legislation, and they are Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia. When a big organization, for example, LinkedIn, suffered a breach, we reached out to the three provinces. Rather than the four of us going to LinkedIn independently, we went to LinkedIn together.
LinkedIn proved to be a very responsible organization. It's an example not just of leveraging our national counterparts' expertise, but also of engaging with an organization in a less expensive way to reach compliance.
We did not do an investigation of LinkedIn. We engaged with them in an informal investigation. In fact, we asked them what happened, what the management failings were, and what they were doing about it. So we got resolution with a much lower expenditure of effort and money.
In relation to the international partners, let's take the investigation of WhatsApp, an American company about which we had concerns. We had concerns about lack of encryption of messages, for example. We had concerns about the transparency, because the location of an individual was almost broadcasted. The Dutch Data Protection Authority had the same concerns. So we decided to join forces.
Doing the investigation together allowed us to divide the work. They took on mainly the technological analysis. We took on the negotiation with the American company. Together we did coordinated investigations that fed into each other and were, therefore, much more efficient. In less than a year we managed to conclude that investigation. That's another example of how we leveraged international counterparts' efforts for greater efficiency with fewer resources.
Your premise is quite right. I believe it characterizes our office. Because technology and society are moving so fast in relation to privacy and personal information, indeed we never know what's going to come at us.
Turning to Heartbleed, immediately when we heard about it, our technological analysis unit examined the issue, briefed me on it, and explained to me that in fact it was an Internet-wide issue that was probably not malicious, and that it was probably an honest mistake that created a vulnerability that data holders did not know about because no one knew about it. As well, as we now know, it was unfortunately exploited by some hackers.
What we see in front of us now is a situation in which the vulnerability of the Internet was exposed. More than the deficiencies of any data holder, it was the vulnerability of the Internet that was exposed.
We also saw that these vulnerabilities can be exploited with malicious intent either for personal gain or perhaps just for fun. Sadly, we see a lot of hacking just for fun.
At this point, we have no investigation related to Heartbleed, probably due to the fact that the only instance has been very quickly contained. I am speaking based only on the facts I know so far. I reserve my position on it in case I should get more information. But on the basis of what we know so far, there has been no management failing. It was a vulnerability in the Internet and what had to be done to contain it has been done.
Of the $24 million in budgets that we have in the main estimates for 2014-15, about two-thirds of that is for salary of our personnel. We have about 181 FTEs in our organization. The remainder is other operating funds. A small portion of that, approximately $500,000, covers contribution programs, mainly for research-associated activities.
Out of this funding of $24 million, we have almost half dedicated to our compliance activities. These are our investigations, both on the Privacy Act side and on the PIPEDA side, as well as our PIAs, privacy impact assessments, and some of our audits, things of that sort—any activities, whether they be legal activities or technological activities, that support that function. That's almost half of our organization.
As well, we have about 12% to 15% dedicated for our research and policy development activities, which are an integral part of the organization, as well as our public outreach activities.
Finally, the remainder—so about a quarter of those resources—is dedicated to internal services that support all of these programs.
Good morning again, ladies and gentlemen. We'll reconvene our meeting.
We'll welcome our next panel, two distinguished officers of Parliament.
From the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, we have Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson.
Welcome, Ms. Dawson.
From the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, we don't have the commissioner herself but we welcome representatives Emily McCarthy and Layla Michaud.
We'll do the same as we did with the first two representatives in our first panel. We'll invite five- or ten-minute opening remarks, and there will be time for one full round of questioning.
I advise members that we're going to conclude a few minutes early so that we can do the votes on the estimates and return them to Parliament after having been voted on at the committee. As well, we'd like time to deal with a motion by Mr. Scott Andrews. I would perhaps ask people to be very concise with their questioning to keep to the prescribed limit of the questions.
Having said that, we will go in order that appears on the agenda. We will invite Ms. Mary Dawson, the Ethics Commissioner, to please make her opening remarks.
Welcome, Ms. Dawson.
Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to appear before the committee today as it studies the main estimates for our office for the financial year 2014-2015.
With me today is Denise Benoit, Director of Corporate Management.
I will briefly describe the office's organization and operations and I will then talk about our financial needs for the current financial year and some related considerations.
In support of my mandate to administer the Conflict of Interest Act for public office holders and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, I have organized my office into five divisions.
Reflecting our primary goal of helping public office holders and members meet their obligations under the act and the code through education and guidance, advisory and compliance is the largest division, accounting for about one third of my staff. This group provides confidential advice to our stakeholders. It reviews their confidential reports, maintains internal records of this information, and administers a system of public disclosure.
In keeping with my emphasis on education and advice as the best way to achieve compliance, the policy, research, and communications division coordinates education and outreach activities. It also contributes to policy development, compiles research, conducts public communications and media relations, and coordinates our dealings with Parliament and external organizations.
While the major focus of my office is on prevention, we also investigate possible contraventions of the act and the code. Our reports and investigations division leads our investigations and coordinates the preparation of our annual reports.
Legal services also plays a critical role in our investigations, and provides strategic legal advice to all facets of our work.
Our corporate management division oversees the development and implementation of internal management policies and the delivery of services and advice on human resources, finance, information technology, information management, and the management of our office facilities. It also administers our shared services agreements with other organizations.
Finally, my own small team in the commissioner's office provides general administrative and logistical support for the office.
There are 49 positions in my office. Although staff turnover remains low, four positions are currently vacant as a result of employee departures. Before staffing these positions, we're assessing operational requirements.
For the first five years after my office was created in July 2007, we maintained an operating budget that remained unchanged at $7.1 million. I considered that would be sufficient once my office was fully operational, although we have never had to spend the full amount. We have implemented measures to reduce expenditures, such as using e-mail rather than regular mail to communicate with our stakeholders; using webcasts to participate in conferences, thereby reducing travel costs; and centralizing certain purchases and functions.
In 2013-14 we decided not to immediately fill positions that became vacant during the year, and eliminated one position in the corporate management division. We have also reduced the amount set aside as a reserve to cover unexpected situations.
Some of those efficiencies were identified in a spending review that I initiated in 2012-13. As a result of that review, I was able to proactively offer an overall budget reduction of 1.4% for the last fiscal year.
This year I've offered a further reduction of 1.4%, as I expect my office to be able to fund its operations with a budget of just $6.9 million in 2014-15. This amount is sufficient to discharge my mandate in its current form, although any changes resulting from the current reviews of the act and the code could have resource implications for my office.
My office is an entity of Parliament that is not subject to most Treasury Board policies and guidelines, or to most legislation governing the administration of the public service. Nevertheless, we have worked to establish and maintain an internal management framework based on the principles of sound resource management followed in the public service.
Over the past fiscal year, for example, we have formalized practices already adopted by the office through the development and implementation of internal directives related to expenditure management, including travel, conference, and hospitality expenses, and the use of acquisition cards.
My office continues to rely on the expertise of other entities of Parliament, as well as Public Works and Government Services Canada, for the delivery of shared services. We have agreements with the House of Commons for technology and security, with the Library of Parliament for accounts payable and external reporting, and with PWGSC for compensation. These arrangements provide greater efficiency and one more level of scrutiny in the management of resources.
In the past fiscal year, we have had our internal controls for expenditure management assessed by the Library of Parliament. I'm pleased to report that we've had very positive results. I'm also pleased to report that, for the third year, the annual financial statements for my office were audited independently, and we again received a positive opinion.
We continue to follow good management practices in other areas of our operations as well. Building on our strong policy framework in the area of human resources, we implemented over the last year policies and guidelines to address occupational health and safety, disability management and the duty to accommodate, and management of specific forms of leave. We recently introduced our new directive on performance management, which is consistent with the approach being taken in the public service. We are also in the process of developing competency profiles for all positions.
In May 2013 my office contracted with an external company to carry out an employee satisfaction survey. We achieved a response rate of 98%, and overall survey results suggest that employees are generally satisfied. We have acted to address concerns that were raised regarding opportunities for advancement within the office, employee empowerment, and the establishment of a conflict resolution mechanism. We have nearly finalized the development of a performance measurement strategy to demonstrate the effectiveness of my office in fulfilling its mandate.
We recently reviewed and updated the strategic plan for my office, identifying priorities and projects going forward. Our strategic priorities for 2014-15 include addressing any changes arising from the reviews of the act and the code, updating the public registries, completing an internal practice manual, implementing our performance measurement strategy, continuing to identify opportunities for cost savings, and succession planning.
My thanks once again to the committee for inviting me to discuss our main estimates. I will be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to discuss the operations of the Office of the Information Commissioner and to outline some of our key priorities for the year ahead.
I am Emily McCarthy, Assistant Information Commissioner. I am accompanied by Layla Michaud, the office's Director General of Corporate Services. The Commissioner sends her regrets that she is unable to appear today.
This year the Office of the Information Commissioner's budget to support its program activities is $11.2 million, which represents a decrease of $3.3 million from the last fiscal year. This reduction reflects a one-time $2.6-million loan received last year for the relocation of the office to Gatineau, the associated loan repayments for 2014-15, and the sunsetting of a five-year IM/IT strategy.
The Office of the Information Commissioner employs 93 full-time equivalents, 70 in program and 23 in various corporate service functions.
Over the last three years, the focus of the commissioner has been on the realization of the key priorities set out in her strategic plan, which comes to an end this year. One of these key priorities is to provide exemplary service to Canadians. This priority relates to our core business, which is to investigate institutions' handling of access to information requests.
Over the last three years, our investigators have completed more than 4,700 investigations. We have improved how quickly investigators respond to complainants and have gotten additional information released whenever possible. We have also implemented a strategic approach to managing our caseload.
Looking ahead to the current year, we will complete the remaining commitments identified in the office's strategic plan. For example, we will continue to improve our investigations of complex refusal complaints. This will involve setting clear steps and timelines for the investigative process. This will allow us to closely monitor ongoing investigations to further improve timeliness. We will also be introducing, on a pilot basis, a process which will seek to rapidly resolve or clarify complaints. These enhancements will strengthen the process and make it more efficient.
The commissioner will also issue a comprehensive report in which she will make recommendations for the modernization of the Access to Information Act. The focus will be on suggestions for reforms that respond to factors that have had a profound effect on access to information since the act became law in 1983 such as technological developments. These suggestions will be based on the commissioner's unique perspective as the first level of independent oversight.
Finally, we will fully implement the new integrated human resources plan. The cornerstone of this plan is excellence. This year, the commissioner will develop a new strategic plan to see the office through to the end of her term in 2017. This will be done in consultation with employees and other stakeholders.
As you will see in the office's report on plans and priorities, everyone at the Office of the Information Commissioner is working to meet demanding performance targets: to complete 85% of administrative cases within 90 days and 75% of priority or early resolution cases within six months. However, a key element of risk to the office remains our limited financial resources. The commissioner has said in previous appearances that the office has no financial and organizational flexibility. She has raised concerns that this will impact on her ability to deliver on her mandate.
Over the past four fiscal years, the office's budget has been impacted by nearly 9% due to cuts and other measures. In addition to this, we will need to review our planned expenditures in light of the two-year operational spending freeze announced in the 2013 Speech from the Throne, which will take effect this fiscal year.
At the same time, our workload is growing. Last year we received 2,081 new complaints, an increase of 30% over the previous year. As of March 31, we had 2,089 complaints in our inventory, having closed 1,789 during the past year. This closure rate is 10% higher than the previous year and 20% higher than 2011-12. However, due to the increase in new complaints, our inventory grew for the first time in five years. Given this workload and the office's limited resources, there is now, on average, a six-month gap between the time a complaint is registered and the time it is assigned to an investigator.
Under these circumstances, the commissioner is concerned about her continued ability to deliver on her mandate, which would jeopardize the rights conferred by the act. The commissioner, however, has clearly indicated that she is resolved to continue. She has an ambitious agenda for this year. And she has a dedicated group of employees who continue to make every effort to serve Canadians to their best of their ability.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I would be pleased to answer any questions committee members may have.
Ms. Dawson, thank you very much.
Mr. Hawn, that concludes the time set aside for questioning.
I'd like to thank the representatives from the Office of the Information Commissioner and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson for their presentation.
Without bothering to suspend the meeting, I think we'll go right into the votes for the consideration of estimates. We'll thank our witnesses for their presentations, and proceed right away to the meat and potatoes of our meeting, as it were.
OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF LOBBYING
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$4,015,579
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
OFFICE OF THE CONFLICT OF INTEREST AND ETHICS COMMISSIONER
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$6,178,280
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
OFFICES OF THE INFORMATION AND PRIVACY COMMISSIONERS OF CANADA
Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$9,897,674
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Vote 5—Program expenditures and contributions..........$21,949,100
(Votes 1 and 5 agreed to on division)
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$1,059,500
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall the chair report vote 1 under the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying, vote 1 under the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, votes 1 and 5 under the Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada, and vote 1 under the Senate Ethics Officer, less the amount voted in interim supply, to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you very much, committee members. That concludes our examination of the 2014-15 estimates for the agents of Parliament who report to our committee.
We now have time, I'm glad to say, to deal with a notice of motion put forward by our colleague Scott Andrews.
Scott, are you prepared to move your motion today?
I will move the notice of motion that this committee undertake a study, of at least four meetings, on the transfer of personal consumer and subscriber information from Canadian telecom providers to the Canadian government, as disclosed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and this committee report its findings and recommendations to the House.
I think it is somewhat timely that we discuss it. We had the Information Commissioner here today.
Let me state that this is not a gotcha motion. This is not trying to embarrass the government in any form, because one of the things the Information Commissioner told us this morning is that this information is being transferred to municipal agencies and other agencies as well; we really don't know. There's often good reason for information to be provided to our law enforcers and Canada Border Services.
The intent is to make sure that this information is being transferred in a proper format. What concerns us is that the Information Commissioner states that there's no way of knowing if these government agencies and telecommunications and social media companies are following the rules. We should take a look at that, and see if they are following the rules or if the rules need to be tightened up a little. It's of some genuine interest.
We know about warrant lists and warrant disclosures of information. Often there are important reasons for government agencies to work quickly and not get a warrant to request this information. We understand that. But when you see the sheer volume of these requests, I think some bells and whistles should go off that maybe we have a problem here. Is there a better way? How do these requests happen?
From my understanding, a telecommunications company puts certain information to the side, and law enforcement agencies can have free rein to look at that information. Is that something we need to tighten up on? We really don't know.
I commend the government; there are a few bills before the Senate and before Parliament right now that will look at some of this information as it comes forward. That's a side issue; that's something we'll look forward to seeing make its way through the Senate, and into the House...to disclose some of that information.
It's about oversight. Right now there doesn't seem to be a lot of oversight on this, and no court oversight. Yes, the judicial system does apply for warrants for this, but not 1.2 million times, not 800 times. How many times are warrants being asked for and given? Is that taking up a lot of the time of our judicial system? We don't know because we don't know how many of these are warrants and how much is warrant-less information.
I think we should take a short study of this, four meetings, to see if there's more to this. As I said, it's not trying to “get” the government, because I think we all have an opportunity to look at things in this House, and if our Information Commissioner and our Privacy Commissioner are feeling their hands are tied, it's our duty to look into this.
One of the things that has come up for much debate is basic subscriber information from Internet service providers. Well, what is basic subscriber information? As we dive into this, we know it's your name, address, e-mail, and IP address. We had a little discussion this morning about the IP address as a very, very detailed piece of personal information—maybe, maybe not, but we should look into it.
From what experts are telling us, it goes beyond that basic subscriber information. It goes into transmission data or metadata. The analogy that's being used is that's the information on the outside of the envelope from Canada Post: to, from, and when, as in when something was sent, whether it's e-mail or a phone call; it's that information. That's getting into grounds where we need to see if that should require a warrant or not, and it's of some concern.
You know, it's a genuine motion. I think we as parliamentarians should have a look at this. The committee is probably the best spot to look at this to see if there's more to this than meets the eye. I do take the government for their word that most of this is being done on a warranted basis, and I hope it would be. We should just peel back the onion a little bit here and see if there is more to this than really meets the eye.
That gives you an overview of the situation. I think we're all familiar with the information around it. It's our duty to ask some questions and get some more answers on this, especially when it comes to, as the motion says, subscriber information. Let's see how broad or narrow that definition is and whether that is causing the Canadian telecommunications companies some leeway.
One of the things is that the Information Commissioner wrote 13 companies and social media companies as well. They're not telecom companies. Only nine responded and four didn't even bother to respond to the information commissioner.
So she's given us an opportunity to look into this as an area of concern. I think it's something that we should take at least four meetings to dive into to see if there's something to this or not and give it the due diligence that it needs.
I thank the member for bringing the motion forward.
I know that as part of our identity theft study that we're undertaking right now we'll be having representatives from telecom before us, or I'm hoping that we'd put them on an approved list, at some point.
Obviously, we've discussed it. We won't be supporting the motion right now. We think that as part of our identity theft study this might be an opportunity for us to engage a bit further, perhaps with telecoms and other service providers. In the context of our identity theft study, we had spoken separately with committee members about potentially bringing in the commissioner as we approached the conclusion of our identity theft study.
So if the member would consider putting it on hold for now, let's see what we can get through as part of our study on identity theft, and perhaps we could consider.... I know that all committee members would probably agree with me that we've made some really good progress on identity theft. We had wanted to perhaps consider extending that study a little bit further to tackle some of these other issues that have come up as part of the study.
In summation, I guess what we're saying is not at this time, but as part of our identity theft, perhaps we want to expand our witness list to include not only the telecom but other service providers, so that we can have them before us. As we said, perhaps towards the end of our identity theft study we could consider not only bringing in the commissioner but other individuals who have opened certain doors to us, and calling them back as well. Perhaps the member would be amenable to that. At the same time, I think we should probably look at other committees, I guess public safety, to see if this is before them or not.
In conclusion, I know that the commissioner was in front of the Senate recently, I'm told...?