Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien holds a news conference to discuss his annual report in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Statistics Canada’s request for banking data prompts privacy investigation

Statistics Canada can compel businesses to supply a wide range of data

Federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien says he is investigating Statistics Canada’s request for private banking information on 500,000 Canadians.

Therrien said Wednesday that numerous people have complained to his office about the agency’s effort to gather detailed information on transactions held by Canadian financial institutions, from cash-machine withdrawals to credit-card payments to account balances.

The formal investigation will include an examination of the requests Statistics Canada has made to businesses in multiple industries for data they collect on their customers and business partners, he said.

READ MORE: Annual pace of inflation slows to 2.2 per cent in September: Statistics Canada

Canada’s chief statistician, Anil Arora, said traditional methods of gathering data aren’t good enough to measure Canada’s economy and changes in society.

“More than 75 per cent of purchases are conducted online by Canadians and Statistics Canada has to have access to these data in order to provide all Canadians with the timely and quality statistics they need in areas such as housing and debt and the impacts of transitioning to a gig economy,” Arora said.

Therrien’s last report to Parliament mentioned Statistics Canada’s growing reliance on “administrative data sources,” mainly information collected by businesses about their customers. Many of those businesses have contacted the privacy commissioner to make sure that sharing it is OK, his report said.

Therrien suggested that wherever possible, Statistics Canada should tell the companies involved to strip names and identifying information from the data before sending it over.

“To ensure transparency, we recommended StatCan let the Canadian public know how and why it is increasing its collection of data from administrative and other non-traditional sources,” the report said.

Arora said the privacy commissioner was consulted as Statistics Canada planned its pilot project on financial data, but added he has asked Therrien to take a second look.

Statistics Canada can compel businesses to supply a wide range of data.

“I understand the concerns that Canadians have and want to assure them that their personal information is carefully protected and never shared publicly,” Arora said.

The Canadian Press


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