Bell wants permission to gather and track customer data

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Canada’s largest telecommunications group is getting mixed reviews for its plan to follow the lead of companies like Google and Facebook in collecting massive amounts of information about the activities and preferences of its customers.

Bell Canada began asking its customers in December for permission to track everything they do with their home and mobile phones, internet, television, apps or any other services they get through Bell or its affiliates.

In return, Bell says it will provide advertising and promotions that are more « tailored » to their needs and preferences.

« Tailored marketing means Bell will be able to customize advertising based on participant account information and service usage patterns, similar to the ways that companies like Google and others have been doing for some time, » the company says in recent notices to customers.

Giving away valuable information

If given permission, Bell will collect information about its customers’ age, gender, billing addresses, and the specific tablet, television or other devices used to access Bell services.

It will also collect the « number of messages sent and received, voice minutes, user data consumption and type of connectivity when downloading or streaming. »

Here’s a company that’s taking every shred of personal information about me, from all kinds of activities that I engage in, and they’re monetizing it. What do I get in return?– Teresa Scassa, expert in information law

« Bell’s marketing partners will not receive the personal information of program participants; we just deliver the offers relevant to the program participants on their behalf, » the company assures customers.

Teresa Scassa, who teaches law at the University of Ottawa and holds the Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, says Bell has done a good job of explaining what it wants to do.

But Scassa says Bell customers who opt into Bell’s new program could be giving away commercially valuable personal information with little to no compensation for increased risks to their privacy and security.

« Here’s a company that’s taking every shred of personal information about me, from all kinds of activities that I engage in, and they’re monetizing it. What do I get in return? Better ads? Really? That’s it? What about better prices? »

Toronto-based consultant Charlie Wilton, whose firm has advised Bell and Rogers in the past, says there’s « tonnes » of evidence that consumers are increasingly aware of how valuable their personal information can be.

Privacy and security concerns

« I mean, in a perfect world, they would give you discounts or they would give you points or things that consumers would more tangibly want, rather than just the elimination of a pain point — which is what they’re offering right now, » Wilton says.

Scassa says there are also privacy and security concerns to consider.

At the macro level, Bell’s data security could be breached by hackers. At the micro level, she adds, there’s the potential for family friction if everybody starts getting ads based on one person’s activities.

Ads for pornography, birth control or services for victims of abuse could trigger confrontations, for instance.

« Some families are open and sharing. Others are fraught with tension and violence, » Scassa says.

Wilton says a company in Bell’s position also runs the risk that customers will feel betrayed if their information is leaked or the advertising they receive is inappropriate.

In the age of social media, he says, « one leak or one transgression gets amplified a million times. »

For its part, Bell spokesman Nathan Gibson notes in an email that its customers aren’t required to opt into its new marketing program and they can opt out later by adjusting their instructions to the company.

Ads that are relevant to customers

« Bell is responsible for delivering the advertising we believe would be most relevant to customers who opt in to the program, rather than the random online ads they would receive otherwise, » Gibson says.

« Customer information is always protected, enforced by our strict privacy policy and in accordance with all Canadian privacy regulations. »

Gibson noted that « international competitors like Google or Facebook, who deliver targeted marketing services in this country, are not subject to the rules that we as a Canadian company must and do follow. »

A spokeswoman for the federal privacy commissioner says that it hasn’t received any complaints about Bell’s new program.

However, Tobi Cohen noted that Bell withdrew and replaced its earlier Relevant Ads Program for its mobile service after the commission concluded in 2015 that dissatisfied consumers shouldn’t be required to take the initiative to opt out.

Numerous requirements

« Following further consultations and discussions with our office, Bell did make improvements and relaunched the program with opt-in consent in 2016, » Cohen says.

She added that the privacy commission hasn’t scrutinized the new « tailored » marketing program but added that the federal privacy law governing private-sector organizations has numerous requirements.

Among other things, organizations « need to explain what risks of harm may come to the individual from the collection, use or disclosure of the various information. »

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RCMP officers given permission to break the law a record 73 times in 2017, report shows

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RCMP officers were given permission to break the law 73 times on the job last year — the highest number on record — according to a new report.

Police officers are not immune from criminal liability while doing their jobs, but a decade-old tweak to the Criminal Code allows for a temporary dispensation during investigations.

The provisions are subject to a legal requirement of reasonableness and proportionality. High-ranking officials can grant permission if they believe breaking the law could save someone’s life, protect the identity of an undercover officer or save evidence from being destroyed.             

In 2017, senior officials gave the green light to 94 scenarios, resulting in the 73 committed crimes.

They were mainly linked to organized crime investigations which saw undercover officers taking part in bets, pool-selling, bookmaking and unlawful possession of tobacco products, according to a recent Public Safety report quietly tabled in the House of Commons in late October.

RCMP officers were authorized to break the law 73 times on the job last year. (Public Safety/CBC)

Going back to 2003, the first year the report is available, Mounties have committed just a smattering of green-lit crimes.

On average, they’ve been authorized to break the law about six times a year, making the 2017 calendar year an anomaly.

Forgery, bribery and other offences

The only other year that saw a spike was 2015, when 20 crimes were committed in the name of anti-corruption and terrorism-related investigations.

That year, the offences ranged from bribery to unauthorized use of a computer and passport forgery.

The crimes vary by year, but often involve forgery and false statements.

During a 2013 terrorism investigation, officers were given authority to provide and make « property or services for terrorist purposes. »

Neither Public Safety officials nor the RCMP would explain why 2017 saw a huge spike.

« We are evaluating the increase in the 2016-2017 numbers, but cannot provide any details at this time. We will not speculate on trends related to 2018 statistics, » said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Marie Damian in an email to CBC News. 

« RCMP procedures and policies governing undercover activities are continually reviewed to ensure undercover operations are applied pursuant to all laws, procedures, and policies governing undercover operations while not jeopardizing the safety of our members, suspects, their families, or the public. »

Former RCMP deputy commissioner Pierre-Yves Bourduas said after the Parliament Hill shooting in 2014 some operations and investigations were set aside to focus on national security investigations. (CBC)

Why crimes spiked in 2017

Former RCMP deputy commissioner Pierre-Yves Bourduas said after the Parliament Hill shooting in 2014 some operations and investigations were set aside to focus on national security investigations.

« It would make sense for me that all of a sudden the resources that were re-profiled on national security investigations were brought back to look at organized crime and money laundering and these other types of operation, » he said in an interview.

It would make sense for me that all of a sudden the resources that were re-profiled on national security investigations were brought back to look at organized crime and money laundering and these other types of operation.– PY  Bourduas , former RCMP  deputy commissioner

Bourduas, who now runs PY Public Safety Management Inc., said these operations involve lots of oversight and planning.

« These are highly sensitive cases and operations, and you try to work as many possible scenarios and options, because  this is a very dangerous type of work. Hence the reason why sometimes you ask permission to conduct illegal activities, » he said. 

« There’s also an additional legislative obligation for the officer to report what he’s done in the course of his or her investigation because, as we all know, the ultimate consequences, if these officers don’t abide by the law, is that a case could be thrown out of court. »

Under the law, which was introduced in 2002 after a Supreme Court case, officers are never allowed to cause bodily harm, sexually violate another person or obstruct justice, and an annual report summarizing the crimes has to be tabled in the House of Commons.

During the past 14 years, there has been just one occasion where a designated officer proceeded without a senior official’s authorization « due to exigent circumstances. »

According to a briefing obtained through access to information, the RCMP asked the federal government to table the 2017 report in June, before Parliament rose for the summer break, but it was put off until late October.

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Premier Brian Gallant gets permission from lieutenant-governor to continue governing New Brunswick

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New Brunswick’s lieutenant-governor on Tuesday gave Brian Gallant permission to continue governing the province while the Liberals try to win the confidence of the legislature with fewer seats than his main opponent.

Gallant, who remains as premier, met with Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau the morning after the results of the provincial election suggested the Progressive Conservatives had eked out a minority government — 22 seats to the Liberals’ 21 — in a legislature requiring 25 for a majority. 

Two third parties each won three seats.

In a media scrum, Gallant said he expected the New Brunswick Legislature to sit before Christmas, and if the Liberals lose confidence of the house, the government would resign.

« Nobody was given a mandate to form a government last night, » Gallant said. « The people elected 49 MLAs who must now try to work together. »

The Liberals find themselves in a difficult spot despite taking a larger piece of the popular vote in the province’s 39th general election. With all polls reporting, the Liberals received 37.8 per cent of the votes compared with the PC share of 31.9 per cent.

The PCs and the Liberals were in a dead heat, at 21 seats, when the final votes were counted. The last poll in Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin secured re-election for Tory Jake Stewart and the party’s 22nd seat.

« We recognize very much that New Brunswickers have sent a very strong message that they want things to change, » he said.

« They did not clearly define who they wanted to lead that change, that is clear. But we did get the plurality of votes. »

The province’s last minority government happened in 1920, when the United Farmers party held the balance of power.

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