Telecom - Commission Letter addressed to the Distribution List
Ottawa, 22 June 2021
Our reference: 8665-C12-202000280
RE: Unauthorized Mobile Telephone Number Transfers and SIM Swapping in Canada – Request for disclosure
This letter addresses a request by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) for disclosure of information designated as confidential by various mobile carriers (MCs) concerning unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swapping. It also addresses PIAC’s request that the Commission initiate a public proceeding to look into the matters of unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swapping.
By letter dated 9 February 2021, PIAC requested that the Commission direct the MCs to file public, unredacted copies of their January and February 2021 responses to the 22 December 2020 requests for information (RFIs)Footnote1 and further direct these carriers to file unredacted responses going forward. In addition, PIAC reiterated its request for a public proceeding on the matter.Footnote2
PIAC submitted that the MCs have failed to substantiate their claims for confidentiality as they neglected to explain why disclosure of the information filed in confidence would produce the alleged harm or explain why any such harm would outweigh the public interest in disclosure, as required by Broadcasting and Telecom Information Bulletin CRTC 2010-961 (Bulletin 2010-961).Footnote3 PIAC argued that there was insufficient support provided to understand i) how the release of the number of frauds committed against MC customers maps to a competitive harm that will result in material loss and ii) how and why it was claimed that disclosure of the fraud numbers would affect the MC’s competitive position or why such specific commercial harm (if any) would outweigh the public interest in disclosure.
PIAC asserted that the very size of the problem, and the corresponding consumer financial losses and inconvenience, fear and distrust generated by such nefarious activities argue for public disclosure to help PIAC, consumers and other advocates to work for the public interest by eliminating the effects of this fraud on consumers, who experience significant personal and financial harm as a result. It indicated that disclosure would allow the public to tell the Commission if the level of fraud is socially acceptable. PIAC was of the view that the Commission’s or MCs’ assurance that matters are under control are insufficient.
PIAC argued that there had been a significant change since it made its 23 July 2020 request for disclosure. In this regard, PIAC argued that one of the main reasons given to deny its original request was that the information sought to be disclosed was historical and would provide no insight as to the impact of the new security measures being implemented by the carriers. PIAC noted that the information that is sought as per its new request could not suffer such characterization.
The MCs generally responded that Commission staff has already ruled on the disclosure of this information in a letter dated 16 October 2020Footnote4 and that PIAC has failed to demonstrate that there has been any substantive change in circumstances since then which should give rise to a different result. Further, they generally argued that there would be no benefit to public disclosure of MCs’ unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swapping volumes.
The MCs indicated that they have implemented fraud prevention measures to protect Canadians from fraud and that the release of relevant information, even aggregated statistics for the entire industry (including percentages), would enable fraudsters to better understand these measures. In their view, disclosure of the information filed in confidence, including details of the measures put in place to counter the underlying fraudulent activities, would allow fraudsters to exploit these measures and further harm consumers by having the keys to circumvent any new measures and enabling them to evolve their tactics to deploy new harms that defraud Canadians.
In addition, the MCs submitted that the public release would assist competitors to develop more effective business plans and marketing strategies to encourage customers to switch carriers.
The companies submitted that PIAC is using this request for disclosure as another opportunity to press for a public proceeding into unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swaps. However, according to the MCs, PIAC had not demonstrated a valid public interest reason for holding a public proceeding. MCs were of the view that a public consultation would be a distraction from the on-going meaningful work that MCs are undertaking to further combat fraudulent activity.
In addition, the MCs submitted that PIAC fails to understand that MCs, the Commission and consumers have the same objective and should be united in the common goal of reducing or eliminating unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swaps. According to MCs, there is no additional information that PIAC needs to advocate in support of this important outcome.
Commission Analysis and Determination
Unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swapping is an issue of importance to Canadians.
The current request for disclosure was assessed in light of section 39 of the Telecommunications Act (the Act). In evaluating a request, an assessment is made as to whether the information falls into a category of information that can be designated confidential pursuant to section 39 of the Act. An assessment is then made as to whether there is any specific direct harm likely to result from the disclosure of the information in question and whether any such harm outweighs the public interest in disclosure. In making this evaluation, a number of factors are taken into consideration. The factors considered are discussed in more detail in Procedures for filing confidential information and requesting its disclosure in Commission proceedings, Broadcasting and Telecom Information Bulletin CRTC 2010-961, 23 December 2010, as amended by Broadcasting and Telecom Information Bulletin CRTC 2010-961-1, 26 October 2012.
Request for disclosure of RFI responses
The Commission is of the view that it is in the public’s interest to know that the MCs are taking the matter of unauthorized mobile telephone transfers and SIM swaps seriously and that they are actively engaged in resolving this issue.
Regarding the measures taken to combat the unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swaps, the Commission is of the view that it would not be appropriate to disclose details of these measures as this would likely expose consumers to harm as a result of fraudsters being able to use this information to circumvent the MCs’ initiatives.
With regards to the disclosure of data touching on the numbers of unauthorized mobile telephone number porting and SIM swapping, the Commission considers that there is a public interest in disclosing certain information as this would serve to increase public awareness on the impact of the measures that were put in place and on the trends reflected in the data. However, the Commission considers that limitations on the amount and nature of data or information to be released are necessary in order to minimize the risk of competitive harm and harm to consumers related to the release of relevant information.
Specifically, the Commission considers that disclosing aggregated data information for unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swapping would serve to further the public interest discussed above and can be done in a manner that would reduce, if not altogether eliminate, any likely harm resulting from such disclosure. While certain carriers submitted that even the release of aggregated data could result in potential harm, these claims were not supported by detailed rationale. In this regard, the Commission is of the view that releasing aggregated data across all companies and geographic markets would provide meaningful information for consumer groups and the public to better understand the scope of the problem and the results of measures that have been implemented while minimizing the competitive harm to MCs and potential harm to consumers. The Commission considers that the disclosure of trend data would meet this goal. Specifically, the Commission considers releasing the decline, in percentage, of unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swaps across all carriers and markets since the implementation of the measures (i.e. the released percentage would reflect the difference between the total number of unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swaps for all carriers from prior to the implementation of the measures compared to the recent total number).
In light of the above, the Commission announces that it will disclose the data trend as explained above on 8 July 2021.
PIAC’s request for a Notice of Consultation
The Commission thanks PIAC for its letters and interest in protecting Canadian mobile consumers. However, in Commission’s view, based on reasons explained above, a public vetting of the measures intended to address the issue of unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swaps would not be appropriate.
More specifically, the Commission continues to be of the view that there is a real risk that a public proceeding would provide fraudsters with information to circumvent existing measures as well as information and time to circumvent any measures adopted as a result of such a proceeding, and this even before the effectiveness of any new measure could be tested.
The Commission is of the view, as evidenced by the data that will be disclosed in line with the above, that the measures that the MCs have put in place are currently effective and it is doubtful that a proceeding will lead to measures that are much different from what the mobile carriers have already implemented.
While the Commission will not be initiating a Notice of Consultation proceeding, the Commission will continue to monitor the implementation of measures meant to curb unauthorized mobile telephone number transfers and SIM swaps and assess their effectiveness.
Original signed by
c.c.: Distribution List
Eric Smith, CWTA, email@example.com
Ursula Grant, CWTA, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Lawford, PIAC, email@example.com
Bell Mobility Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org
Bragg Communications Incorporated (carrying on business as Eastlink), Regulatory.Matters@corp.eastlink.ca
Rogers Communications Canada Inc., email@example.com
Saskatchewan Telecommunications, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shaw Telecom Inc., Regulatory@sjrb.ca
TELUS Communications Inc., email@example.com
Videotron Ltd., firstname.lastname@example.org
Xplore Mobile Inc., email@example.com
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