Privacy Commissioner launches investigation into Statistics Canada’s recent request from financial institutions

Statistics with aerial view of city skylines at night

There has been news reports yesterday about a project by Statistics Canada (“StatCan”) to collect information from financial institutions about their customers’ financial transactions.

A few clients have reached out asking about StatCan’s authority to request such data. StatCan is relying on Section 13 of the Statistics Act, which appears to grant the institution broad powers to access records, including from private organizations.

A person having the custody or charge of any documents or records that are maintained in any department or in any municipal office, corporation, business or organization, from which information is sought in respect of the objects of this Act can be obtained […] shall grant access thereto for those purposes to a person authorized by the Chief Statistician to obtain that information […].

StatCan recently used this provision to obtain 15 years worth of information from credit bureau TransUnion including social insurance numbers, names, addresses, dates-of-birth and detailed credit information, including balances owed, balances overdue, and more than 30 other fields of data.

In its 2017-2018 annual report, the OPC raised some concerns and noted that it had consulted with StatCan “to discuss the privacy implications of its collection of administrative data – such as individuals’ mobile phone records, credit bureau reports, electricity bills, and so on” and that it “recommended the agency consider whether it could achieve the same objectives by collecting customer information that has been de-identified before it is disclosed to the agency”.

Today, the OPC announced that it was launching an investigation into Statistics Canada.

For more information, you can read Terasa Scassa’s blog Statistics Canada faces backlash over collection of personal financial information (or: Teaching an old law new tricks) on this topic.

This content has been updated on October 31, 2018 at 22 h 23 min.