On Tuesday Canadians learned that Statistics Canada demanded that a private company hand over the credit ratings, including personal identifiers, of millions of Canadians without first seeking their consent. This breach of people’s trust by a government agency severely undermines public confidence that Ottawa respects Canadians’ right to privacy. According to news reports, Statistics Canada also plans to compel Canada’s banks to hand over personal banking records, including purchases, balances owing, and payment histories.
While the agency’s objectives might be legitimate, the ends definitely don’t justify the means.
If a company attempted to do what Statistics Canada has done, it would violate The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), Canada’s privacy law that applies to businesses. PIPEDA remains effective because it is principles- and objectives-based, and technology-neutral. In contrast, the Privacy Act (privacy laws that the government and political parties must abide by) enshrines a double standard for the government that permits abuses like this.
Until Parliament amends the law, the Government is definitely not practicing what it preaches. Ottawa needs to lead by example in how it treats sensitive personal information. Transparency in the collection, use and disclosure of personal data, scrubbing of sensitive personal information, and ensuring informed consent are good principles that should apply to both public and private sectors.
The Honourable Perrin Beatty
President and CEO
Canadian Chamber of Commerce