Telecom Procedural Letter addressed to John Lawford (Public Interest Advocacy Centre)

Ottawa, 13 May 2020


John Lawford
Executive Director and General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
285 McLeod Street, Suite 200
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1A1

Subject: Application submitted by PIAC regarding pandemic contact-tracing by major Canadian telecommunications service providers

Dear Mr. Lawford,

This letter is in response to the above-noted application, dated 4 May 2020, in which you request Commission action to ensure that pandemic contact tracing applications for public health purposes are developed “in the fairest, most open and transparent manner, non-coercively and only for the intended purpose(s)”.

I appreciate the concerns raised in your application and understand that this issue is a concern for many Canadians and various organizations, such as yours.

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that telecommunications service providers (TSPs) must adhere to the Telecommunications Act, including all applicable Commission rules concerning the protection of customer privacy. In addition, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) Footnote1 (CASL) prohibits the installation of a computer program to another person's computing device in the course of commercial activity without the express consent of the device owner or an authorized user. Please be assured that we continuously monitor adherence to these and other legislative and regulatory requirements that fall within the CRTC’s authority. 

While the CRTC regulates several areas of the Canadian telecommunications sector (including some aspects relating to privacy) under the Telecommunications Act, the issues raised in your application appear to extend beyond the CRTC’s purview. TSPs are generally not involved in the development of third-party applications, in the subsequent downloading of these applications by Canadians or in the development of the operating software of the devices that are used to access TSPs’ networks.  TSPs provide the networks over which applications operate and in some cases, may have provided the device used to access the network. 

According to the available information, the one contact tracing application to be released in a jurisdiction in Canada is voluntary to download and does not appear to rely on collecting data from the TSPs’ networks, but rather relies on Bluetooth technology. Other applications that are being proposed or developed by other governments and health authorities in an effort to manage the current health crisis appear to be modeled on the same voluntary- and Bluetooth-based approach.     

Moreover, I was pleased to see that a joint statement was released on 7 May 2020 by federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners outlining privacy principles for contact tracing applications. These principles included, amongst others, meaningful consent, time and purpose limitations, transparency and accountability. Prior to this joint statement, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC), who is responsible for enforcing federal privacy laws that set out the rules for how federal government institutions and certain businesses must handle personal information, had issued a framework to assess privacy-impactful initiatives in response to COVID-19 on 17 April 2020.

This situation and the efforts to contain and manage it continue to evolve. Commission staff will continue to closely monitor all relevant developments and, where appropriate, will send requests for information to TSPs with respect to this issue. As part of its monitoring efforts, Commission staff will maintain contact with staff from the OPC, the federal lead on privacy issues. However, there would appear to be no evidence that current privacy frameworks are not sufficient to address recent efforts or that initiating a public proceeding would be beneficial to Canadians at this time.

In light of the above, I inform you that your application will not be further considered.

Yours sincerely,

Originally signed by Scott Hutton

Chief, Consumer, Research and Communications
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission

Date modified: