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Phillips seeks Court ruling on Customs/EI match

OTTAWA, September 29, 1997 - Despite a promising start - a commitment to a national privacy law in the private sector - the federal government appears to have lost its own way and risks embarking "on the slippery slope to a general surveillance system", says Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips in his annual report tabled today.

Phillips' comments reflect his profound concern with the government's search of every returning traveller's Customs declarations to find employment insurance cheats - not to mention the precedent it sets. "No more crucial issue has arisen in my six years in this Office. I have no more interest in protecting UI cheats from detection than the next taxpayer. I have every interest in preventing government from putting millions of law-abiding Canadians under 'dataveillance'. ...One's Charter rights should not be compromised simply because technology makes it possible", Phillips says.

"The datamatch turns the presumption of innocence on its head; everyone is suspect until the computer proves them innocent. ...If such matches become standard practice, we face virtually open season on any personal information we entrust - or are forced to deliver, to government", argues Phillips who is preparing to have the Federal Court rule on the legality of the match.

The report also examines the privacy implications of several other initiatives:

  • proposals for a new Common Client Identifier - a "Son of SIN";
  • construction of a Canadian Health Information System, a new national health database, and
  • three national population registers - a wrap-up of the permanent voters' list, the proposed firearms registry and the permanent DNA databank.

Also discussed are the results of the Office's audit of NAV CANADA prior to its handover - more than a million unneeded personal documents destroyed - and government's commitment to a clear government policy statement on continuing protection for clients' and employees' personal information in privatized programs.

On a final note, the Office's complaint load was a record-breaking 2,235 complaints received and 2,717 completed.

Copies of the report are available on request and full text is accessible on the Office's web site at:

Information: Sally Jackson (613) 995-8566, 1(800) 267-0441

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