Jennifer Stoddart has today tabled her Annual Report to Parliament on the Privacy Act (2009-2010). The report deals with her duties and the administration of the federal public sector privacy law.
Some highlights from her accompanying press release include:
- Wireless audit: Of five federal entities examined, none had fully assessed the threats and risks inherent in wireless communications. Gaps in policies and/or practices resulted in weak password protection for smart phones and inadequate encryption for Wi-Fi networks and data stored on mobile devices. Shortcomings were also noted in the disposal of surplus handheld devices and the use of PIN-to-PIN messaging, a form of direct communication between two smart phones that is vulnerable to interception.
- Disposal audit: Satisfactory policies and procedural rules were in place for paper shredding and the disposal of surplus computer equipment among the federal institutions audited. There were, however, disturbing deficiencies in practice. For example, tests on a sample of computers donated to a recycling program for schools revealed that 90 percent of the donating institutions had not properly wiped their computers’ hard drives, leaving behind data that was confidential, highly sensitive and, in some cases, even classified.
- Unauthorized access to tax records: An OPC investigation confirmed that a former Canada Revenue Agency worker had posted to an Internet chat group some personal tax information of high-profile sports figures, which he appears to have gleaned while working at the agency. The investigation further found that other staff still with the agency had similarly accessed tax records without authorization. They were subsequently suspended or fired and new measures were introduced to safeguard the data.
- RCMP Automated Licence Plate Recognition Program: A surveillance technology rolled out by the RCMP in British Columbia, which aims to spot stolen or uninsured vehicles, raised concerns about the collection and retention of incidental licence plate data from cars that were lawfully on the roads. In response to OPC recommendations, the RCMP made privacy-sensitive modifications to the program.
- Political Impartiality Monitoring Approach: The OPC reviewed a Privacy Impact Assessment for the Political Impartiality Monitoring Approach, a program developed by the Public Service Commission to monitor media outlets, personal websites and social networking sites for signs of inappropriate political activity by government employees and appointees. The review raised concerns about the scope and privacy implications of the initiative. In response, the Commission undertook to modify its approach and to provide the OPC with a new Privacy Impact Assessment in the fall of 2010.
- Technical malfunctions: Several investigations turned up mechanical or computer glitches that led to the unauthorized disclosure of personal information by federal institutions. For instance, a programming flaw allowed a hacker to access personal information submitted through the Canada Post Ombudsman’s online complaint system.
- Federal administrative tribunals: The OPC continues to express concerns about the disclosure of personal information by administrative tribunals and other quasi-judicial bodies. In one case, the Public Service Staffing Tribunal improperly shared sensitive medical information about an individual with hundreds of his former colleagues. In 2009-2010, the Office published guidelines for tribunals on balancing transparency and privacy in the Internet era.