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Statistics Canada suspends credit searches, delays plan to obtain banking records
December 3, 2018
9:38 am
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From the Globe and Mail

Statistics Canada suspends credit searches, delays plan to obtain banking records

Statistics Canada is suspending its practice of obtaining personal credit records from TransUnion and has written to Canada’s banks to delay its plan to obtain the banking details of 500,000 Canadian households.

The moves come as the national statistics agency is under investigation by the federal Privacy Commissioner after concerns were raised over its plans to obtain an unprecedented level of access to the personal financial information of Canadians.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-statscan-suspends-credit-searches-delays-plan-to-obtain-banking/

December 3, 2018
1:05 pm
Pipersierra
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The Statisticians are easily startled, but they'll soon be back, and in greater numbers.

December 3, 2018
1:24 pm
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The PMO won't tolerate this delay and will most likely table amending legislation in the new year, giving the agency carte blanche ... ALL in the national interest, of course.

December 4, 2018
9:37 am
Blue
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I got very good detailed replies from my liberal MP. So good experience there. He actually agreed with my concern. And said he was going to move all concerns forward, and pointed out additional people to contact if it becomes necessary. Since Statistics Canada can easily find a fully anonymized way forward to do their analysis, then hopefully this issue doesn't come up again.

December 4, 2018
10:53 am
Retep
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Hi Anonymize...yes correct.

And if they found a pattern apparently they can reverse engineer anonymity and put a name to it.

It is a worth while effort to turn on ALERTS on your Credit Cards and Bank/Credit Union Accounts.

December 4, 2018
11:40 am
NorthernRaven
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Blue said
I got very good detailed replies from my liberal MP. So good experience there. He actually agreed with my concern. And said he was going to move all concerns forward, and pointed out additional people to contact if it becomes necessary. Since Statistics Canada can easily find a fully anonymized way forward to do their analysis, then hopefully this issue doesn't come up again.  

It isn't as easy as that. The StatsCan analysts can (and would) use an anonymized dataset. But StatsCan still needs identifiable data (probably by SIN, with other crosschecks) from the individual institutions to put together that anonymized dataset.

Again, it is important to remember that neither the original data nor the anonymized dataset would be available outside of Statistics Canada; the original data would be worked on by a very limited group of people (and I believe the original identifiers might be removed after the dataset is created), and even the dataset would only be available to the appropriate groups of analysts. It isn't some sort of "government file" sitting around for bureaucrats to look at. Neither the RCMP, Justin Trudeau, nor anyone else can compel them to release the information they may have for, say, Mr. Tin Foylehat.

Unlike records in bank or other institutional settings, this information never needs to be retrieved through any sort of public interface, so there is much less threat surface for attacks, which would need to somehow access into the secure internal systems. Anything is possible, but I'd be much more worried about my data leaking out from, say, banking systems. Also, while they might (although perhaps not) want to know that the information from Ms. SIN 123456789 for expenditures from Bank#1 is a different credit card than from Bank#2, the card# itself likely could be suppressed or tokenized at the bank's end, and not need to be transmitted to StatsCan.

There are probably things they can do to reduce the sampling footprint, or the range of data, and certainly better communicate their goals and intentions. But the data products produced by programs like this are very important for public policy development and evaluation. Poverty measures, CPI baskets and weightings, design and measuring of social programs or financial initiatives, and many other things greatly benefit from good statistical measures.

StatsCan already collects data through things like the Household Expenditure or Financial Security surveys, as well as access to tax records etc, although those have problems of non-response and accuracy. Hopefully a full public discussion can result in support for a reasonable program (in whatever form that eventually takes) to enable important statistical products to be produced.

December 4, 2018
12:09 pm
Bruford
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It isn't some sort of "government file" sitting around for bureaucrats to look at. Neither the RCMP, Justin Trudeau, nor anyone else can compel them to release the information they may have for, say, Mr. Tin Foylehat.

At the present time you may be correct. This may not always be the case.

December 4, 2018
12:21 pm
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Bruford said
At the present time you may be correct. This may not always be the case.  

I second that emotion.

I see the current PMO tiring of the Ethics Officer, the PBO, the Privacy Commissioner, the Auditor General and any other appointed puppets telling them how to conduct business. The StatsCan puppetry will march to whatever beat the PMO directs them to. Lots and lots of string-pulling goes on on a daily basis - it may be just as simple as hitting on the correct wording in a Request for Information to spell it all out.

December 4, 2018
12:49 pm
NorthernRaven
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Bruford said

It isn't some sort of "government file" sitting around for bureaucrats to look at. Neither the RCMP, Justin Trudeau, nor anyone else can compel them to release the information they may have for, say, Mr. Tin Foylehat.

At the present time you may be correct. This may not always be the case.  

Neither may the government bureaucrats access your personal medical files for whatever purpose they may come up with. Both are bright line, non-slippery-slope cases with explicit legislative protection. Removing these protections would in my opinion be a complete non-starter, and there is no constituency for it. Any political environment that could moot such legislation, much less introduce or let alone pass it, is going to have bigger crises than knowing I spent a thousand bucks at Walmart last month.

December 4, 2018
1:23 pm
Koogie
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"Hi, I'm from the government and I'm here to help"

Uh, huh. No, thanks. We've managed to get by for 150 years of Confederation at least without StatsCan having access to this information. I think we can get by for a while longer and everything will continue to work just fine.

Let them crunch the numbers for some other make work project.

December 4, 2018
1:39 pm
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NorthernRaven said

... than knowing I spent a thousand bucks at Walmart last month.  

How about them knowing how often you visit strip clubs, buy booze, buy weed, visit a shrink, make cash withdrawals at casinos ... you OK with them knowing that information?

December 4, 2018
1:57 pm
NorthernRaven
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Top It Up said
How about them knowing how often you visit strip clubs, buy booze, buy weed, visit a shrink, make cash withdrawals at casinos ... you OK with them knowing that information?  

Well, I'd have a certain amount of concern with employees at banks or credit agencies, with systems that are designed to bring this information up on their screens, wandering through my info for giggles, or passing it along to their friend the cop. A handful of sworn StatsCan professionals during the preparation of the dataset, who don't give a damn and aren't digging in any case? No, I'm not worried.

Again, there are (other) perfectly sensible reasons to question and perhaps oppose this in principal or the details.

December 4, 2018
2:12 pm
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NorthernRaven said

A handful of sworn StatsCan professionals during the preparation of the dataset, who don't give a damn and aren't digging in any case? No, I'm not worried.
 

From the CBC

Statistics Canada loses, mishandles hundreds of sensitive census, employment files

The federal agency in charge of collecting, analyzing and securely storing personal data about Canadians lost hundreds of sensitive files during the 2016 census process.

Incident reports obtained by CBC News through Access to Information detail 20 cases of information and privacy breaches by Statistics Canada, including long and short census surveys, home visit logs and personal employment records.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/statistics-canada-census-lost-forms-1.4566263

From the Globe and Mail -

StatsCan needs to own up to its data breaches

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/article-globe-editorial-statscan-needs-to-own-up-to-its-data-breaches/

--------------------------------------------

As safe as Fort Knox.

December 4, 2018
3:38 pm
NorthernRaven
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Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinions as to the motives and capacities of institutions (or even individuals). I think most people will understand that the Census still involves a large physical collection effort, and while the temporary employees are trained and sworn, there are inevitably going to be a few (obviously embarrassing) glitches in the field. The commentary tends to take them to task for their lack of transparency in reporting these. I also notice that the articles referenced say things like "StatsCan has a strong track record on ethics and security safeguards, "This is not to say the agency is habitually negligent – it’s not." and "We have always been at war with EastAsia"... oops.

If one is actually interested in the risks of StatsCan electronic data processes, it should be easy to distinguish those from Census field operations and physical records, which don't apply. FWIW, I'm not aware of breaches of StatsCan internal data systems.

December 4, 2018
4:01 pm
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SO you can absolutely swear that not a single StatsCan hacks er employees has ever carried a government issued laptop with "sensitive" data on a bus or subway or carried a jump drive loaded with that same sensitive data to his home for after hours work.

It's a ticking time bomb and Canadians know it and so now do the MPs who received thousands upon thousands of phone calls expressing the same HENCE the timeout.

December 5, 2018
6:26 am
NorthernRaven
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The original data with SINs and names and whatnot would be unavailable to all but a small group creating the anonymized dataset, in the secure internal network. It would not be put on jump drives, laptops, paper napkins or anything else that leaves the building. The dataset itself would itself be subject to restrictions, and it is likely that what many analysts would work with is something aggregated in one way or another anyway, depending on what sort of product they are producing.

December 5, 2018
7:28 am
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So you're an insider, you actually work at Statistics Canada at a high level or you're part of the PMO, and that's why you know all this?

December 5, 2018
9:06 am
Bruford
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I find it much more prudent to be very skeptical of Government intentions. It usually pays off in the long run.

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