Bill C-247, An Act to Expand the Mandate of Service Canada in Respect of the Death of a Canadian Citizen or Canadian Resident

Submission to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA)

October 29, 2014

Mr. Phil McColeman, M.P.
Chair
House Standing Committee on Human Resources,
Skills and Social Development and the
Status of Persons with Disabilities
131 Queen Street, Sixth Floor
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. McColeman:

I wish to thank you and your Committee for the opportunity to make a written submission concerning Bill C-247, An Act to Expand the Mandate of Service Canada in Respect of the Death of a Canadian Citizen or Canadian Resident (Service Canada Mandate Expansion Act).

Bill C-247 proposes to establish Service Canada as the single point of contact for the Government of Canada in respect of all matters relating to the death of a Canadian citizen or a Canadian resident.

I would like to be clear at the outset that my Office appreciates the benefits to both individuals and to government operations resulting from streamlining the process of settling an estate.  In principle, this proposal would lighten a bureaucratic burden for bereaved Canadians and make it easier for them to obtain the benefits they may be entitled to upon the death of their loved ones. On the government side, program integrity would be enhanced by helping ensure that benefits are not paid out to deceased individuals and that documents such as passports are cancelled upon death.

Streamlined service delivery and improved access to government services are laudable goals, but ones that could engender several potential privacy and security risks if not implemented carefully. As Privacy Commissioner of Canada, I am charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the collection and use of personal information by federal government departments and agencies are in keeping with the requirements of the Privacy Act. Given the brevity of Bill C-247, many of the privacy and security issues stemming from this Bill will only become apparent when details of this proposed initiative become available through a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA). In the meantime, I would like to flag some potential privacy implications for your consideration.

Establishing a single point of contact at the federal level for the settling of estates may lead to increased data collection and sharing by federal government departments.  In addition, this proposal could lead to increased sharing of personal information with provincial and municipal levels of government. However, as the Bill does not contain many details, the extent of sharing of personal information is unclear.

Potential sharing could pose a number of privacy and security risks that would need to be identified and mitigated as the proposed initiative takes shape.  The Privacy Act requires that the collection of information be directly related to an operating program or activity authorized by Parliament and that the information be used for a legislated purpose.

While I support the idea of centralizing access to government services when required to enhance program efficiencies, there must be strict policies and procedures in place to protect the privacy rights of individuals. First, departments need to have the legislative authority to collect the personal information. Secondly, information-sharing agreements have to be put in place that will provide a framework for how much information is shared and for what purpose. Finally, appropriate security safeguards must be implemented to protect against both external and internal security threats.

I would therefore recommend that more consideration be given to these issues prior to adopting the legislation; namely, that privacy protection be a core consideration if this initiative moves to the planning and implementation stages; and that PIAs be submitted to our Office for our review by all departments implicated in this initiative, well in advance of its implementation, in keeping with the requirement of the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) Directive on Privacy Impact Assessment.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Given the public interest in this issue, we anticipate posting this letter on our website in the near future.

Sincerely,

(Original signed by)

Daniel Therrien
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

c.c.  Ms. Caroline Bosc, Clerk (HUMA)

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