A Senate committee is calling on the federal government to review and modernize several key pieces of privacy legislation, following Statistics Canada’s controversial plan to collect the personal banking data of half a million Canadian households.
In a report released Monday afternoon, the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce said Justin Trudeau’s government should update the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) to bring Canada in line with international privacy standards.
It also recommended reviewing the Statistics Act, which gives the national statistical agency broad powers to collect information from public and private institutions.
“Canadians are rightly concerned about what information Statistics Canada is collecting and how it will be used,” said Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen in a statement. “The secretive manner in which this agency has gone about its work does not inspire confidence. Canadians need to know their information is being collected in an open, transparent and secure manner.”
Senators also strongly recommended that Ottawa restructure the pilot project so personal identifiers are removed before the personal banking data is transferred to Statistics Canada.
Privacy experts have called for data to be identified and anonymized at its source, rather than once collected by the agency.
The report pointed to the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe, which governments are implementing to ensure citizens have more control over their personal data.
“It calls on Statistics Canada to require the consent of Canadians before they access Canadians’ individual identifiable financial data,” Senator David Wells told Global News.
“Canadians are rightly angered that this is being done without their knowledge.”
The report comes after Global News first reported in late October the national statistical agency’s plan to launch a “pilot project” that would gather sensitive personal financial information from nine banks, which is now being investigated by federal privacy commissioner.
Earlier this month, StatsCan said it’s delaying the pilot project and has temporarily halted collecting credit records from TransUnion, a major international credit bureau.
“[Statistics Canada] will not proceed with this project until we have addressed the privacy concerns expressed by Canadians by working co-operatively with the Privacy Commissioner and with financial institutions,” chief statistician Anil Arora told the committee.
Arora has said the project was necessary to update data collection methods in order to get a more accurate picture of the country’s economy.
The committee said it intends to reexamine this issue and meet again with the Privacy Commissioner and Statistics Canada once the Privacy Commissioner’s investigation is complete.