Stat­scan info sweep on hold

Winnipeg Sun - - NEWS -

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.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Stat­scan chief statis­ti­cian Anil Arora ap­pears be­fore a Se­nate com­mit­tee yes­ter­day in the Vic­to­ria Build­ing.

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