Statscan info sweep on hold
Statistics Canada’s controversial plan to harvest personal financial data without people’s consent is on hold until an investigation of the legality and intrusiveness of the project is finished, the country’s chief statistician said Thursday.
The federal statistical agency recently caught nine financial institutions off guard by informing them they were required to share banking information from Canadians in 500,000 households across the country.
Canadian law lets Statscan compel public and private institutions, including commercial banks, to turn over data they hold.
The ensuing public outrage put a spotlight on Canada’s privacy laws, which critics call outdated and inadequate in an era where privacy fears are deepening and data is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity.
The concerns have triggered heated political exchanges in the House of Commons, where opposition MPS accused the government of state surveillance and authoritarianism. Under frequent grilling by the Conservatives, the governing Liberals have insisted the agency will protect Canadians’ privacy while producing reliable data.
The uproar has also stirred up serious concerns in the financial institutions that were contacted — and prompted federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien to launch an investigation into the matter.
Facing intensifying public pressure, chief statistician Anil Arora told a Senate committee Thursday the banking-data project will not proceed until Therrien has finished his work and Canadians’ privacy concerns have been addressed.
“We have not received a single piece of information yet from any of those financial institutions,” he told the committee, which held a special hearing to explore the issue.
Even so, he said, the data the agency wants would stay secret.
Arora defended the “pilot project” as a part of Statistics Canada’s efforts to modernize and improve its data-collection efforts, which are designed to help the agency continue providing high-quality information — especially given the rapid expansion of the digital economy.
Statscan chief statistician Anil Arora appears before a Senate committee yesterday in the Victoria Building.