Annual Report 2012-2013 on the Privacy Act - page 10

2012-13
Privacy Act
Annual Report
Canadians’ growing unease about privacy protection
is not surprising. New technologies are emerging and
spreading rapidly, many of them fuelled by innovative
and extensive uses of personal information that
can be difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to
fully comprehend.They are also being inundated by
requests for more and more personal information;
while at the same time they are hearing, frequently,
about significant data breaches and leaks of personal
information.
Examples that breed distrust
This Annual Report, unfortunately, offers numerous
examples from the public sector of the types of issues
that are heightening Canadians’ general privacy
concerns, while eroding their trust in the federal
departments and agencies that collect their personal
information.
For example, an audit of the Canada Revenue
Agency (CRA), which routinely handles Canadians’
sensitive financial data, found many instances of
employees making unauthorized accesses to taxpayer
files. Many of these breaches went undetected for a
period of several years.
There is also evidence of increased delays in response
times to requests for personal information under
the
Privacy Act
, and response times to our Office on
investigations and other matters.
For the third year in a row, the number of data
breaches reported to our Office has reached an all-
time high. Among the breaches noted in this report
is the loss of a hard drive containing personal details
of more than 500,000 student loan recipients.
This upward trend in data breaches could point to a
higher level of data loss by institutions, or it could
simply show greater diligence by departments in
meeting their reporting obligations. Even in the
latter and best case scenario, Canadians would be
justified in demanding that greater diligence be paid
to information handling practices in order to avoid
breaches in the first place.
Other examples of note in this report include the
unwarranted collection of personal information
by two federal departments from a First Nations
activist’s personal Facebook page; the misuse of
a Canadian Forces member’s confidential health
records by an estranged spouse; and the use of a law
enforcement database by a landlord working as a
Royal Canadian Mounted Police employee by day to
check on a prospective tenant.
A decade of change
While our Office has reported similar transgressions
during my decade as Commissioner, the ever-
expanding use of technology is having a significant
impact on the issues we are seeing. As the federal
government strives to modernize its services and its
workplace processes and tools, the collection, storage
and sharing of personal information digitally will
inevitably increase.
Innovation is essential, and it can offer many
benefits, but it can also introduce vulnerabilities.
The government must ensure that privacy policies
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