Ian Scott to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology

Speech

Ottawa, Ontario
March 10, 2020

Ian Scott, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)

Check against delivery

Thank you, Madam Chair, for inviting us to appear before this Committee, here on traditional unceded Algonquin territory.

My name is Ian Scott and I am the Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). With me today are Steven Harroun, the Chief Compliance and Enforcement Officer, and Alain Garneau, Director of Telecommunications Enforcement.

We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Committee’s study of fraudulent calls to Canadians, including robocalls and other types of unsolicited calls.

The CRTC’s mandate includes helping Canadians reduce the number of unwanted telemarketing calls they receive. We do this by setting rules for telemarketers, overseeing the National Do Not Call List and conducting outreach and enforcement activities. While some unsolicited calls are fraudulent in nature, which is a matter outside of the CRTC’s mandate, we have a collective responsibility to protect Canadians.

We are pleased to be here today to share with you the steps we are taking to better protect Canadians. We recognize that these unsolicited calls impact everyone and are a scourge on our society. For some, however – particularly vulnerable people – they are a serious problem, because they often lead to criminal activity, such as fraud and identity theft.

Given the continuously evolving nature of problem, addressing it requires broad and concerted collaboration. To this end, the CRTC works closely with industry, as well as our domestic and international partners, to develop and implement solutions.

National Do Not Call List

In 2008, the CRTC created the National Do Not Call List, a tool that balances consumer concerns about unwanted calls with business’ legitimate desire to communicate with existing and potential customers. It’s important to recognize that striking and maintaining an appropriate balance between the two requires the participation of both consumers and telemarketers.

Since we started the National Do Not Call List, more than 14 million numbers have been registered by Canadians who want telemarketers to respect their privacy. Last year, Canadians registered an average of 858 numbers each day – a sign that they have confidence in the list.

In addition, more than 20,000 telemarketers have subscribed to the list.

We closely track and analyze complaints about unwanted calls – data that help to inform our outreach efforts and enforcement actions. The CRTC regularly imposes monetary penalties on telemarketers and their clients who violate the rules, and takes other enforcement action such as issuing warning letters, citations and notices of violation.

I’m pleased to report that the majority of legitimate businesses are following the rules. The challenge we currently face, as I’m sure this committee appreciates, is the illegitimate actors who are using the telephone system to take advantage of Canadians. These people often do not reside in Canada, have no interest in complying with the rules and are using technology to hide their identity.

Combatting illegitimate calls

To combat this problem, the CRTC required service providers to implement a system to block certain types of calls within their networks by December 31, 2019. Whenever the caller-identification information exceeds 15 digits or does not conform to a number that can be dialled – such as 000-000-0000 – the call will not go through. These calls will be blocked before they ring on a subscriber’s phone. Providers that offer their customers that call-filtering services, which provide more advanced call-management features, were exempted from this requirement.

While the call blocking system will help, it will obviously not stop all the illegitimate calls from getting through. For years, Canadians have used the caller-ID function to identify and ignore unwanted calls. Now, however, some illegitimate actors use technologies that generate fake caller IDs, enabling them to conceal both their identities and their intentions. This is often called caller ID spoofing.

I’m pleased to say that there’s a new weapon in the ongoing fight against caller ID spoofing. It’s a framework known as STIR/SHAKEN. STIR is an acronym for Secure Telephony Identity Revisited, while SHAKEN stands for Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs. The CRTC expects Canada’s telecommunications service providers to implement STIR/SHAKEN by September 30, 2020.

The STIR/SHAKEN framework enables service providers to certify whether a caller’s identity can be trusted by authenticating and verifying the caller-ID information for Internet Protocol-based calls. This new framework will enable Canadians to know, before they answer the phone, whether a call is legitimate or whether it should be treated with suspicion.

Last December, we joined forces with our American counterpart, the Federal Communications Commission or FCC, to hold the first official-cross border call using STIR/SHAKEN. This initiative highlighted the joint commitment of our two organizations to reduce unwanted calls and better protect consumers. The timely implementation of STIR/SHAKEN will enhance the security of citizens on both sides of the border.

The CRTC also continues to work with the Canadian telecommunications industry to develop a process to trace nuisance calls back to their points of origin in the network.

Madam Chair, no organization, regardless of its size or power, can combat the negative impacts of illegitimate calls on its own. This is why the CRTC works with a number of federal departments and agencies, including the RCMP, the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre, the Canada Revenue Agency, the Competition Bureau, Shared Services Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada and the Communications Security Establishment. An important purpose of this collaboration is to share relevant information with Canadians in a timely way to help them avoid becoming victims of fraud.

One challenge that I would like to raise is that we are currently limited in the information we can share with our domestic partners. Greater flexibility would enable a more coordinated response to this issue.

In this era of globalization, illegitimate calls are increasingly an international problem. We recognize the importance of developing a global and coordinated approach to address these calls, along with the threats that they pose to consumers and their confidence in critical communication systems.

To better protect Canadians from unwanted calls originating from outside our borders, the CRTC has signed memoranda of understanding with our counterparts in the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. These arrangements allow us to share information and expertise, collaborate on education and training activities, and provide investigative support. Thanks to these activities, our investigators better understand the nature of the challenge and how best to meet it.

The CRTC also maintains partnerships with law enforcement agencies and private-sector groups to enable effective enforcement, intelligence gathering and compliance promotion.

For instance, the CRTC is an active member of the Unsolicited Communications Enforcement Network, the International Partnerships to Combat Indian Call Centre Fraud, the Do Not Call Working Group and the Communications Fraud Control Association. These networks work to promote international spam and telephony enforcement cooperation and to address problems related to nuisance communications, such as fraud and deception, phishing and the dissemination of viruses.

Canadians are rightfully proud of this country’s communications systems. When criminals abuse the system, however, it erodes the confidence of Canadians; they lose trust in systems they’ve relied on throughout their lives. For this reason, we must minimize the potential threats to security and privacy.

As communications technologies evolve, so too will the efforts of criminals to exploit them for illegitimate purposes. To keep pace, our regulatory, investigative and enforcement frameworks must also evolve. Broad partnership between industry, consumers and regulators helps to achieve this goal. The CRTC will continue to collaborate to combat the scourge of illegitimate calls.

Thank you. We will do our best to answer the questions of Committee members.

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