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Canadians concerned corporate cost cutting could affect their privacy: poll

OTTAWA, April 27, 2009 — Canadians are worried their privacy rights could suffer because of corporate cost-cutting during the economic downturn, a new poll for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has found.

The poll shows 87 per cent of Canadians are concerned that businesses may choose to spend less to protect customers’ personal information during a time of economic uncertainty.

“Canadian privacy laws require businesses to properly secure the personal information in their care – even during tough economic times,” says Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart. “We are encouraged by the fact that many businesses have expressed to us their commitment to privacy, which they view as a competitive advantage.”

“The risks to personal information may be higher than ever during an economic downturn because criminals will undoubtedly be looking for ways to exploit vulnerabilities,” she says, noting that the Government of Canada recently warned businesses and consumers to be on the lookout for increased fraudulent activity.

According to police, organized crime groups now see the fraudulent use of personal information, such as names, birthdates and credit card information, as an important money-maker. Around the world, cyber crime has become a multi-billion-dollar business.

The Commissioner also cautioned that corporate belt tightening may be counterproductive when it comes to privacy and security measures. “Studies have shown that it’s far less expensive to get security right in the first place than to mop up after a data breach caused by inadequate security,” she says.

While the poll found that Canadians have some concerns about how businesses are protecting their personal information, it also found that many people are failing to take some basic steps to protect themselves against identity theft and other types of fraud involving personal information.

Half of Canadians (50 per cent) carry sensitive documents such as Social Insurance Number cards and birth certificates in their wallets or purses. Only 18 per cent had ever ordered a copy of their credit report to verify its accuracy.  And less than a third of Canadians (30 per cent) use passwords to protect information on portable digital devices.

On a more positive note, most people (92 per cent) say they check their bank and credit card statements for accuracy and 85 per cent shred or destroy documents that contain personal information.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has been urging the federal government to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat identity theft.  Passing identity theft legislation introduced prior to the last federal election would be a first important step, and the Commissioner has also called for a number of other measures, including anti-spam legislation.

The EKOS survey examined Canadians’ opinions on a broad range of privacy issues, including technology, national security and data breaches. More detailed information about the poll results and how businesses can secure personal information is available on the Privacy Commissioner’s website, www.priv.gc.ca.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman, advocate and guardian of privacy and the protection of personal information rights of Canadians.

To view the final report: Canadians and Privacy (PDF version)

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For further information:

Anne-Marie Hayden,
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 995-0103
Anne-Marie.Hayden@priv.gc.ca

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