StatsCan announces plan to access Canadians banking info

Program that would allow StatsCan to obtain banking info put on hold by Privacy Commissioner

Statistics Canada has begun the process of a new randomized financial audit of Canadian citizens in an attempt to better understand the financial makeup of the country.

The program would see 500,000 Canadians randomly and anonymously selected to have their banking information reviewed and assessed by Statistics Canada in order to analyze fiscal trends in Canadians. The information given to StatsCan would include both transactions as well as bank statements. 

“No data has been collected by Statistics Canada as it pertains to this pilot project,” Anil Arora chief statistician of Statistics Canada said to the standing House of Commons committee on industry, science and technology. “This project will not proceed until we have addressed the privacy concerns of Canadians and the privacy commissioner has done his work.”

On Oct. 31 the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s office announced that they would be investigating StatsCan.

“The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has received complaints related to Statistics Canada and its collection of personal information from private sector organizations and has opened an investigation,” the Privacy Commissioner’s office said in an announcement.

Arora has put forward that StatsCan, like many other modern statistics bureaus, is modernizing their informational system to keep up with the technological evolution and to maintain StatsCan as a world leader in statistics.

“Statistics have far-reaching implications for all Canadians,” Arora said. “Estimates of household spending are used in part to derive the consumer price index. The CPI is in turn used to index pensions and old age security, directly impacting the income of seniors.”

The new project proposed by StatsCan follows the recent unearthing of StatsCan’s procurement of both personal information and credit information from Canadian citizens from American-based credit bureau, TransUnion. StatsCan was legally able to obtain names, social insurance numbers, credit ratings and debt information from Canadians without notifying that this information was available to them.

“Selected households would receive an anonymized statistical number developed by Statistics Canada,” Arora explained regarding the privacy of the new program. “The current design proposes that the institution creates two files. One file would contain the anonymized statistical number and the personal information and a second file would contain the anonymized statistical number and the financial information without the personal information.”

During a House of Commons committee hearing, Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains told the committee that his ministry had not heard of the project proposal until it was in later stages of development.

“The specifics of where those [bank] requests were being made and for whom, I did not know until it was made available in the media,” Bains said.

“We’ll start the rigorous work to determine whether Statistics Canada and the way they are setting up this program are complying with the law or not. We have not reached any conclusion on these questions,” Daniel Therrien Privacy Commissioner of Canada said regarding the investigation his organization is taking on.

Arora has said that program is on hold until the Privacy Commissioner’s office has reached a conclusion.