Text Messages Are Being Censored in Canada

UPDATE: This might not be an act of censorship. There might be another explanation. I started to look at the source code and RFCs this morning to better understand. I am very short on time at the moment and I probably will continue to be short on time until after Christmas unfortunately. If you would like to help, please contact me.

What is this about?

Yesterday, I discovered that if I send a text containing the words: secure communication, it will never arrive at the recipients text messaging client. Something is censoring text messages in Canada.

What devices and carrier services are affected?

I do not have much data on this. I only discovered this at the very end of the day yesterday. Here is what I have been able to manually verify so far:

Sender Make Receiver Make Sender Carrier Receiver Carrier censored
Android Android Koodo Koodo yes
Android iphone Koodo Bell yes
iphone Android Bell Koodo yes
iphone iphone Bell Bell yes

Exactly what is censored?

In order for the text to be censored it must contain the exact words, secure communication, anywhere within the message. It is also important that the words, secure communication, are separated by no more than a single space and are lowercase. The censorship prevents the entire message from being delivered. I have only tested this using SMS and MMS protocols and found that MMS is not affected by this particular censorship. Here are some examples:

Message Censored? Comment
secure communication True
secure communication False two spaces separating keywords
secure communication. True trailing period
Secure communication False
secure Communication False
SECURE COMMUNICATION False
Any Leading Text secure communication True
secure communication any trailing text True
Appended leading textsecure communication True
secure communicationappended trailing text True
securecommunication False
leadingsecure communicationtrailing True

My testing methodology was manual and far from comprehensive. Someone needs to automate a test that sends random combinations of words from various devices and carrier services to get a better picture of the nature of the censorship.

This poses some questions

At this point all I have been able to determine is that the words, secure communication, are being censored by something when sent using the SMS protocol. I do not know if the censorship is taking place on the devices themselves, the local short message service centre, or something else. I am now wondering:

  1. Who is behind the censorship?
  2. Do they have a publicly accessible disclaimer stating exactly what they are censoring and why?
  3. Is this censorship legal in Canada?
  4. What else is being censored?

Censorship in Canada affects all Canadian citizens as well as all citizens of other countries that correspond with Canadian citizens. If you are concerned by this act against our civil liberties, then consider writing your MLA and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Discussed on Hacker News

I linked this article on Hacker News and a couple of commenters’ have independently reproduced the issue. I copied some details in the table below. The first 3 are my own tests.

Make OS Protocol Carrier Region Text Comment
Sender Nexus 6P Android 8.1.0 SMS Koodo Alberta, Canada see above my test
Recipient Nexus 6P Android 8.1.0 SMS Koodo Alberta, Canada
Sender Nexus 6P Android 8.1.0 SMS Koodo Alberta, Canada see above my test
Recipient iPhone ios SMS Bell Alberta, Canada
Sender iPhone Android 8.1.0 SMS Koodo Alberta, Canada see above my test
Recipient iPhone ios SMS Bell Alberta, Canada
Sender iPhone XR iOS 13.2.3 SMS Fizz Québec, Canada “test”, “secure communication” “test”
Recipient LG G7 Android SMS Koodo Québec, Canada “test”, “test”
SMS Telus Alberta, Canada “secure communication”, “secure communication does not work” vice versa
SMS & VOIP voip.ms

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