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Canada’s privacy watchdog probing health officials’ use of cellphone location data

15 Jan

Canada’s privacy watchdog is probing federal officials’ use of “de-identified” cellphone location data to measure the efficacy of COVID-19 public health measures.

The Public Health Agency of Canada acknowledged last month it has been purchasing access to cellphone location data in order to analyze Canadians’ movements during the pandemic.

The agency has said the data is aggregated and “de-identified” — meaning it can’t be used to pinpoint individual Canadians’ locations or travel habits.

The program’s existence nevertheless raised concerns with privacy advocates and opposition politicians, who successfully forced an emergency Commons committee meeting on the issue.

A spokesperson for Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien confirmed his office has received multiple complaints about the program, and are now looking into how PHAC assured the data could not be used to track individuals.

“We were not asked for advice as to whether the means taken by or on behalf of the government provided adequate safeguards against re-identification. The government relied on other experts to that end, which is their prerogative,” wrote Tobi Cohen, a spokesperson for Therrien’s office, in a statement to Global News.

“Now that we have received complaints alleging violations of privacy, we will turn our attention to the means chosen to de-identify the data mobility information relied upon by the government for public health purposes.”

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Glad the privacy commission will do their job, but disturbed that the government wants this information in the first place…

 

7 responses to “Canada’s privacy watchdog probing health officials’ use of cellphone location data

  1. Deacon Blues

    January 15, 2022 at 10:19 am

    If it is a crisis, why did they purchase the data? They could just expropriate it or force its disclosure by law. Of course, passing legislation allowing that would put it in the public eye. And to get around Telco resistance to disclosing the information and potentially breaching privacy, some cash goes a long way I’m sure.

     
    • feeriker

      January 15, 2022 at 12:31 pm

      What I cannot fathom is the fact that so many people STILL trust government. Anyone who still does at this stage is a lost cause.

       
    • Will S.

      January 15, 2022 at 8:41 pm

      Yeah.

       
  2. feeriker

    January 15, 2022 at 12:29 pm

    The agency has said the data is aggregated and “de-identified” — meaning it can’t be used to pinpoint individual Canadians’ locations or travel habits.

    Right.

    – “Your check is in the mail.”

    – :We’re from the government and we’re here to help.”

    – “I desire no more new territory.”

    – “No more new taxes.”

    – “Lockdown is temporary.”

     
  3. fuzziewuzziebear

    January 16, 2022 at 7:49 am

    Collectively, we need to turn off cellphones.

     

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