On 9 December 2021, Compliance and Enforcement and Telecom Decision CRTC 2021-403, the Commission approved Bell Canada’s application allowing Bell Canada and its affiliates (“Bell”) to permanently continue its call-blocking system (i.e., a call analytics engine). Bell’s call-blocking system is designed to block selected known/ verified fraudulent and scam voice telephony calls (“fraudulent calls”) received or transmitted from, to, or over their networks - subject to a series of conditions. The Commission has defined a fraudulent call as a voice telecommunications call that attempts, by deceit, falsehood, or other fraudulent means, to defraud a person, organization, or the public of any property, money, valuable security, or any service.
The call-blocking system leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze telecommunications traffic to flag anomalies that suggest possible fraudulent activity. These anomalies are then subject to review; if fraudulent activity is verified, Bell’s call-blocking system will block subsequent calls associated with similar activities at the network level. The call-blocking systems comprise safeguards to reduce the risk of legitimate numbers being blocked (false positives). Every call originating, terminating, or transiting through Bell’s networks is subject to analysis and potential blocking. Only voice calls are subject to this system; text messages and other telecommunications are not affected.
According to section 36 of the Act, a Canadian carrier cannot “control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public” except where the Commission approves otherwise. The Commission has previously expressed that the requirement to obtain approval under that section arises when a carrier seeks to block calls, thus making Commission approval necessary for Bell to implement its call-blocking system.
Based on the reports filed with the Commission, Bell’s call-blocking system successfully blocked 1,120,372,443 calls during the 16-month trial period ending on 16 October 2021 with no confirmed false positives. The Commission also noted a significant reduction in the number of complaints regarding fraudulent calls received by Bell and the Commission since the beginning of the trial. The Commission did acknowledge that no false positives confirmed throughout the trial do not necessarily mean that there were no false positives. However, the Commission was satisfied that the risk of false positives, if any, is extremely low.
The Commission will continue to monitor the results of Bell’s call blocking mechanism through an annual reporting requirement. Additionally, Bell must notify Telecommunications Service Providers (“TSPs”) offering voice telecommunications services of the telephone number and email address for TSPs to use to submit complaints or notices of possible false positives. Within two business days of a false positive complaint, Bell must provide a report relevant to the complainant TSP and the Commission, regardless of the outcome of said complaint.
Will other TSPs follow Bell’s lead and implement an automatic call blocking system? And if so, how soon might this happen? Will these redress mechanisms become more complex with many TSPs implementing call blocking?