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RCMP and private polling firm safeguarded data on gun licensees

As a result of several complaints and media coverage, the Commissioner initiated a complaint against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in October 2009. At issue was the handling of personal information that had been collected by the RCMP’s Canadian Firearms Program, and used by EKOS Research Associates Inc. to survey firearms licensees about their dealings with the program.

The RCMP gave the public opinion research firm contact information for gun licence holders and the polling firm interviewed 1,270 individuals in September 2009. Respondents consented to participate in the survey and were advised that they could stop the interview at any time.

Our investigation showed that, in addition to customer-satisfaction questions, EKOS collected some demographic data, along with information on the guns owned by survey respondents.

In its report to the firearms program, EKOS provided no identifying data about respondents, other than their age and gender. EKOS also returned to the RCMP all data and documentation associated with the project.

We further found that EKOS met all RCMP and Government of Canada contractual requirements on the secure and confidential handling of personal information.

In applying the Privacy Act to these observations, the Assistant Commissioner was satisfied that the Canadian Firearms Program is authorized to collect personal information for the purpose of administering and enforcing the Firearms Act.  Using that information to conduct a client-satisfaction survey to improve the program’s services is consistent with the purpose for which the information was initially collected, and therefore complies with the Act.

Moreover, the RCMP was found to be compliant with the Act when it provided EKOS with personal information allowing the polling company to carry out its activities because the contract contained the same confidentiality and security provisions that bind regular employees of the contracting institution. 

As a consequence, the complaint was determined to be not well founded.

Even so, we concluded that the RCMP could have done some things better. We recommended that the Canada Firearms Centre, which was created in 1996 to administer the firearms program, clarify its public information on the actual and potential uses of the personal information it collects.

Program officials also acknowledged that a Privacy Impact Assessment could have helped ensure that all privacy issues were identified, mitigated or resolved before the project was launched.

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