Appearance before the Senate National Finance Committee on Bill C-15, An Act To Implement Certain Provisions Of The Budget Tabled In Parliament On March 22, 2016 And Other Measures (the Budget Implementation Act 2016, No. 1)

June 8, 2016
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Patricia Kosseim
Senior General Counsel and Director General, Legal Services, Policy, Research and Technology Analysis Branch

(Check against delivery)

Thank you Mister Chair and members of the Committee for inviting the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to present our views on the possible privacy implication of clause 47, Bill C-15, the Budget Implementation Act 2016, No 1.

The Commissioner regrets he was unable to appear before the members of the committee in the timeframe available to you.

I am Patricia Kosseim, Senior General Counsel and joining me today is Miguel Bernal-Castillero, Strategic Policy and Research Analyst.

We have provided a written submission on this matter, and would like to summarize our comments as follows:

Amendment to facilitate information-sharing for the collection of non-tax debts [sub-Clause 47(1)]

With respect to sub-clause 47(1), which seeks to amend provisions in the Income Tax Act to permit the disclosure of “taxpayer information” amongst Canada Revenue Agency officials for the collection of non-tax debts under certain federal and provincial government programs, we understand that streamlining the individuals’ interactions with CRA should better serve Canadians’ interests.

To the extent that the information shared is limited to that which is necessary to fulfill the stated purpose – that is, the Agency’s collection of amounts owing – and provided the use given to the information is consistent with that purpose, the proposed changes would be consistent with the Privacy Act.

That said, as with any proposed information sharing in the public sector, we expect the CRA will comply with Treasury Board Secretariat privacy policies and guidance.

In this regard, I can report our Office has recently received a Privacy Impact Assessment from the CRA with respect to its new data process, integration and analysis systems in order to optimize their strategies for tax and non-tax debt collection. That Privacy Impact Assessment is currently under review.

Amendment to allow information-sharing with the Chief Actuary of Canada [sub-Clause 47(2)]

As for Sub-clause 47(2), it proposes to amend the Income Tax Act to allow “taxpayer information” to be shared with the Chief Actuary of Canada to enable him to conduct actuarial reviews of specified pension plans. We note that this change, as drafted, is meant to facilitate the work of the Chief Actuary and the fulfillment of his legislative duties. We are, however, concerned that this sub- clause, as worded, could allow for the sharing of taxpayer’s personal information in identifiable form even where anonymized information would suffice. It would be preferable to explicitly clarify that the taxpayer information that can be shared with the Chief Actuary is limited to only what is necessary to conduct the specified actuarial reviews.

It is our understanding that the Chief Actuary’s review does not need revenue information about identifiable individuals. In their appearance before you three weeks ago, Department of Finance officials indicated that the information to be shared under this provision would be masked in order to protect the privacy of taxpayers.

While ideally this intention to mask or otherwise de-identify the information should be made explicit in the bill, it is our position that, at a minimum, the privacy principle of exchanging only information that is necessary for the stated purpose, in this case an actuarial review, be incorporated in a formal information-sharing agreement between the departments disclosing the information and the Chief Actuary of Canada, as the recipient of the information. Such an agreement should include privacy protection measures limiting collection and use, establishing retention times and providing for effective destruction of the information no longer needed. At present, we understand that it is the intention to have such an agreement in place. If and when such an agreement were reached, then our privacy concerns about the bill would be mitigated.

Thank you for this opportunity to appear, and we would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

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