Statistics Canada cuts raise privacy concerns

Tue May 22, 2012 2:40pm EDT
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By Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Government budget cuts could threaten the privacy of personal and business information as Canada's statistics agency abandons its standalone computer system and finds cheaper ways to obtain its data.

Canada's privacy watchdog, who famously challenged policies at Facebook (FB.O: Quote) and Google (GOOG.O: Quote), and chief statistician Wayne Smith both see risks in Statistics Canada cost-cutting measures, part of a broad effort to eliminate the Canadian federal budget deficit by 2016.

As well as cutting staff and eliminating some of its surveys, Statscan must merge email and data systems with those used by 42 other government departments and agencies and likely rely more heavily on outside sources of data.

"We have underlined the fact that consolidating the email functions of so many federal organizations into one service could result in greater vulnerability for personal information," said Scott Hutchinson, a spokesman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Statscan, which must cut spending by C$33.9 million ($33.33 million) by 2015, has traditionally kept its computer systems separate from external ones to ensure the confidentiality of all the sensitive information it manages, as is required by law.

That enables it to protect personal data such as names, addresses, employment and financial assets as well as sales and production data obtained through some 350 surveys.

Chief statistician Wayne Smith said in his annual report that his agency "faces significant new challenges in delivering its program and protecting respondent confidentiality" once it joins a program called Shared Services Canada (SSC), created last August to unify information technology across the federal bureaucracy to cut waste and replication.

HACKERS FEARED   Continued...