Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Opposition MPs have called for COVID. Called for a health agency emergency investigation into Canadians’ mobile data use during

A Conservative lawmaker said it was ‘extremely dangerous’ that a government body would use the pandemic as the pretext of secretly collecting Canadians’ mobile data without being informed.

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OTTAWA – All three main opposition parties are calling for a review of Canada’s Public Health Agency to continue using Canadians’ anonymized cellphone location data to track travel patterns during the pandemic.

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Conservative lawmakers called PHAC’s actions “extremely dangerous”, and called for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons ethics committee, a request supported by the bloc Québécois.

Matthew Green, a critic of NDP ethics, said it was “an intrusion on the privacy of Canadians who deserve to know what kind of information the government has” and plans to collect.

The public health agency is seeking to increase its use of de-identified, anonymous data. It posted a request for proposals in December, seeking contracts for third parties to “provide access to cell-tower/operator location data to assist in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health applications”. Went.” The contractor shall provide “de-identified cell-tower based location data” with effect from January 1, 2019. The contract expires in 2023, with the option to renew for a further three years.

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The first contract to track the data expired in the fall.

There is no legal restriction on companies handing over such data to the government, unless it is anonymous. Warrants are required for authorities to track a person’s location, but companies are free to show non-identifying, anonymized data, for example, on how many Canadians traveled during the lockdown.

PHAC said in a statement that it has used “de-identified (without personal identifiers) and aggregated data to inform the Canadian government’s response to COVID-19.” While PHAC said it “consulted with privacy and ethics experts at every step” including the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the federal privacy commissioner’s office said it was only informed, not consulted about the program. Was.

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“We have had regular meetings with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada on various COVID initiatives. As part of these conversations, we were informed about this special initiative in 2020. Sometimes, PHAC and Health Canada take our advice, sometimes they don’t. In this case, he did not take our advice on this initiative, ”said spokesman Vito Pilici.

He said the privacy commissioner has now received “several complaints” about the program and is considering next steps.

PHAC obtained at least some of its data through Telus’s Data for Good program, which was launched in the spring of 2020 in response to the emergence of the COVID-19 virus. The program, which has won a privacy award from the International Association of Privacy Professionals, provides non-identifying, aggregated data to governments, health officials and researchers. Under that program, PHAC or any government agency would not have access to the personally identifiable data of Canadians.

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PHAC did not respond by a deadline when asked whether the data was used entirely through the Telus program.

PHAC isn’t the only government agency tapping into Telus’ data. At the time of launch, the telecom company said in a press release that it would provide the data to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). On its website it promotes testimonials from the City of Surrey and Ottawa Public Health on the Data for Good program.

When asked how many governments it has contracts with at the municipal, provincial or federal level, the company did not respond by a deadline.

John Brassard, a critic of conservative ethics, said at a news conference on Monday, “There is no ability for a parliamentary inquiry to determine what this information has been used for, what the agency’s results are and, by extension, the government.” Looking forward to mitigating the harm being done to our communities by COVID, and to ensure that Canadians’ privacy is protected and what protections exist under this program.”

Bloc MP René Villemure, who signed the letter to the House Ethics Committee for an emergency meeting, said there was not enough information to determine whether the way PHAC obtained the information was accurate.

“We have enough doubts that we can ask questions,” he said in an interview. One of the issues is that PHAC was using the data “without telling anyone,” Villemure said.

He said the health agency’s requests for proposals, which are due to close on January 21, should be put on hold “so that we can learn more about it. And that’s what we’re going to do with the committee.”

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