The Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) secretive mass surveillance program included tracking family gatherings, visits to the grocery store and other travels of millions of Canadians.
Officials had access to detailed information about people’s movements after scooping up data from 33 million mobile devices across Canada.
Documents submitted to the Commons ethics committee reveal that the data analysis company BlueDot provided PHAC with anonymized reports so that public health officials could track travel patterns of Canadians.
The program has been temporarily suspended as of February as committee members investigate whether the federal government violated Canadians’ privacy rights.
“Questions remain about the specifics of the data provided if Canadians’ rights were violated, and what advice the Liberal government was given,” said Conservative MP Damien Kurek.
A report released by parliamentarians yesterday advised the federal government to notify Canadians whenever their data was being collected, and to give individuals the option to opt out of any such program.
PHAC has claimed that its analysis was “not about following individuals’ trips to a specific location, but rather in understanding whether the number of visits to specific locations have increased or decreased over time.”
“For example, point-of-interest data from BlueDot identifies the number of visits to grocery stores, parks, liquor stores and hospitals,” said a PHAC spokesperson. “All we receive is the location of the point of interest and the number of visits for a specific day.”
Surveillance also included border crossings and movement along border communities including Abbotsford, BC.
“None of the information ever includes demographic information or specific identifiers or anything like a name, telephone number, email or address,” said BlueDot founder and CEO Kamran Khan.
“The data and analysis that we do provide are indicators: statistical summaries of anonymous device information, such as the total number of devices travelling between two cities.”
Experts like Ontario’s former privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian have questioned the government’s claims saying that there has yet to be enough assurances that the data could not be reidentified to track individual Canadians.