Expert report reveals Internet providers should be more transparent about how they handle our private information


Report lifts the curtain on how Internet providers protect privacy, giving Canadians an at-a-glance tool to rate their provider’s transparency compared with others

March 27, 2014A new report by leading privacy experts has revealed that Canadian Internet providers need to be much more transparent about how they protect their customers’ private information. The report found that while all providers had room for improvement, smaller independent providers tend to be more transparent overall than their larger counterparts. Smaller providers also got credit for being more transparent about their user privacy protection and for more visibly keeping domestic Canadian Internet traffic within Canada.


The report, entitled Keeping Internet Users in the Know or in the Dark, is being released today by and The New Transparency Projects. The report offers Canadians an in-depth look at the Data Privacy Transparency of Canadian Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The authors have also released an at-a-glance ‘Star Table’ rating ISPs according to 10 transparency criteria. Canadians can use this chart to see how their provider compares with others. The ISP ‘star ratings can also be seen in relation to one’s personal internet traffic using the Explore feature of the internet mapping tool.


The study found that there was plenty of room for improvement among the 20 ISPs covered by the report. However smaller, independent Canadian carriers scored better overall than larger incumbents. Independent provider TekSavvy earned more stars across more categories than other ISPs. Canadian ISPs were overall more transparent than the foreign carriers that handle domestic Canadian internet traffic. They generally don’t even acknowledge their compliance with Canadian privacy law, notably the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).


The project was spearheaded by Prof. Andrew Clement and Dr. Jonathan Obar at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. Professor Clement explains that: “We’ve just seen that in 99% of Canadian Border Services Agency’s requests for subscriber information, telecom companies have turned this sensitive data over without a warrant. Internet providers must be accountable to the Canadian public for how they handle our personal information. ISPs that proactively demonstrate transparency can show leadership in the global battle for data privacy protection and bringing state surveillance under democratic governance.”, a community-based organization leading a 34,000-strong nationwide pro-privacy campaign, says the report has revealed that Canadians need better accountability from their ISPs, especially from the telecom giants.


“Canadians deserve to know whether their telecom provider has their back when it comes to how they protect your privacy,” says Executive Director Steve Anderson. “Today’s report will make it easier for Canadians to make informed choices about which Internet provider to trust with their personal information. It’s clear from these detailed findings that smaller providers are more transparent about the measures they take to protect customer privacy - information customers need to assess which Internet provider is best for them.”


Anderson continued: “Nevertheless, all Internet providers have plenty of room for improvement. With so much of our private information now online, every Internet provider has a duty to safeguard Canadians from mass government surveillance - foreign and Canadian. They also need to be much more transparent about the extent of their cooperation with warrantless government spying - Canadians deserve to know exactly how often the government tries to invade their privacy, and exactly what their ISP is doing to protect them.”


The report makes a number of policy recommendations aimed at improving ISP transparency:


  • ISPs should make public detailed information about their commitment to being transparent about when, why, and how they transfer private customer information to the state and other third parties.

  • The federal Privacy Commissioner and CRTC should more closely oversee ISPs to ensure their data privacy transparency, and in particular that they only hand off Internet traffic to carriers with comparable privacy protections as those in Canadian privacy law.

  • Legislators should reform privacy laws to include robust transparency norms.


The research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The views expressed are those of the authors alone., Professor Andrew Clement and Dr. Jonathan Obar are part of the Protect our Privacy Coalition, which is calling for effective legal measures to protect the privacy of every resident of Canada against intrusion by government entities.


Over 34,000 Canadians have spoken out about government spying in recent months at: and


About the research project:


Since 2008, the project has worked to help internet users “see where your data packets go”, with the aim of raising public awareness of the privacy implications of internet data packet routing. In particular, the project has mapped the sites of likely NSA interception in the US, enabling users to see whether their internet traffic may have been captured. It has also documented the extensive Canadian “boomerang traffic” - internet communication that starts in Canada and ends in Canada, but which passes through the US where it is subject to NSA surveillance. The project has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and is affiliated with the New Transparency Project and the Information Policy Research Program at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto.


About is an award-winning network of people and organizations working to safeguard the possibilities of the open Internet. We work toward informed and participatory digital policy.


Through campaigns such as and, has engaged over half-a-million Canadians, and has influenced public policy and federal law.


About’s privacy campaign led the successful campaign that forced the government to back down on its plans to introduce a costly, invasive, and warrantless online spying law (Bill C-30). Nearly 150,000 Canadians took part in the campaign. To learn more, see this infographic.


On October 10, 2013 collaborated with over 35 major organizations and over a dozen academic experts to form the Protect Our Privacy Coalition, which is the largest pro-privacy coalition in Canadian history. The Coalition is calling for effective legal measures to protect the privacy of every resident of Canada against intrusion by government entities. and the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) recently announced they will work together to put a stop to illegal government surveillance against law-abiding Canadians. has launched a national campaign encouraging Canadians to support a BCCLA legal action which aims to stop illegal spying by challenging the constitutionality of the government’s warrantless collection of data on Canadians’ everyday Internet use.




Media Contacts


Andrew Clement

Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto


David Christopher

Communications Manager,