When the House of Commons returns, MPs will be taking the Liberal government to task for spying on the devices of 33 million Canadians.

In December, Blacklock’s Reporter revealed that the federal government had secretly collected a massive swath of mobility data using cellphone towers. 

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the data was part of a study to better understand the movement of COVID-19. 

Since the story broke, Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs have pushed for an emergency Commons ethics committee meeting to hold further hearings on the matter. 

“This was done in secret,” said Conservative MP John Brassard. “No Canadian among the 33 million Canadians who were being followed through their cellphone data knew this was happening.”

“It is vital we do not allow the Covid response to create a permanent backslide of the rights and freedoms of Canadians including their fundamental right to privacy. There are rightly some questions that need to be asked of the Agency as it relates to privacy, security, the data that are being collected, what it’s being used for.” 

PHAC has since claimed that the data collected was anonymized and cleaned of any way to identify the end users. However, experts are not convinced by the federal government’s assurances.

In an exclusive interview with True North, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner and Executive Director of Global Privacy and Security by Design Ann Cavoukian said that Canadians should have “zero trust” in the government’s claims. 

“They are collecting all of this mobile data. 33 million mobile devices and mobile devices are usually linked to personal identifiers, and you have to take some measures to remove them and de-identify the data in a strong way so it can’t be reidentified. We have no assurances to that effect whatsoever,” Cavoukian told True North. 

“I don’t trust any of this. Zero trust, that’s where we have to start and we have to have some privacy commissioner’s office go in and take a look at this under the hood. Audit what they’re doing.”

In his own comments, Brassard echoed Cavoukian in accusing the Liberals of failing to provide “parliamentary scrutiny to determine what this information has been used for.” 

“What measures are being put in place to protect de-identified information from being re-identified?” asked Brassard. 

A date for the first hearing has not yet been set.