Canada’s privacy commissioner is going to audit the federal government for spying on 33 million devices without Canadians’ consent.
The move was prompted by the revelation that the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) secretly monitored the movements of the public using cell tower data.
As first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter, PHAC claimed that the surveillance was a way to track the success of COVID-19 measures and that the data had been “de-identified” of personal information.
However, in an exclusive interview with True North, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian stated that Canadians should have “zero trust” in the government’s assurances. She had also called for privacy commissioners to probe the government’s activities.
“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.”
Experts have also pointed out that location data can be used to identify sensitive information about end users.
“We were not asked for advice as to whether the means taken by or on behalf of the government provided adequate safeguards against re-identification,” said Privacy Commissioner of Canada spokesperson Tobi Cohen. “The government relied on other experts to that end, which is their prerogative.”
“Now that we have received complaints alleging violations of privacy, we will turn our attention to the means chosen to de-identify the data mobility information relied upon by the government for public health purposes.”
The ensuing public outrage had prompted the opposition to call for immediate hearings into the surveillance at the parliamentary level.
“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.”