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The Canadian Access to Social Media Information (CATSMI) Project

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University of Victoria, Department of Political Science



Project Leader(s)

Dr. Colin J. Bennett and Christopher Parsons, project co-investigators
Adam Molnar, project collaborator


The Canadian Access to Social Media Information (CATSMI) Project examined how the expectations of social networking websites and environments, which were created to facilitate the sharing of personal information about and by users, can be reconciled with the existing Canadian regimes designed to protect personal data. The researchers focused on how Canadian citizens can access their own personal information retained by social networking services, how law enforcement authorities can access that same personal information, and the extent to which previously tabled lawful access legislation could have affected how authorities might have accessed the personal information of Canadians.

To this end, the researchers adopted a three-track methodology to understand access to Canadians’ information on social networking services. First, they analyzed the stated policies and publicly available lawful access documents provided by the various social networking services.

Second, the research team investigated whether members of social networking services could access their own records and thus enforce their privacy rights under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. This let the researchers ascertain the actual access that Canadians might have to the profiles retained on social networks, as well as whether records provided to subscribers are comparable to data made available to law enforcement.

Third, the researchers evaluated how existing disclosure policies would be affected by Canadian lawful access legislation, notably the previously tabled Bill C-30 “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.”

Through this project the researchers came to the conclusion that lawful access legislation would have established differences between what “basic” subscriber information would be provided to Canadian versus American law enforcement authorities. Moreover, Canadian law would have forced many companies to expand the identifiers that “unlock” network subscribers' information to authorities, thus weakening the existing controls these companies have established to restrict inappropriate disclosures of their subscribers' information.

This document is available in the following language(s):

English only

OPC Funded Project

This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.

Contact Information

Please use the form at the CATSMI website for contact purposes:

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