Thursday, December 16, 2004

Outsourcing of Canadian student loans process to US results in complaint to the Privacy Commissioner

This is the first week that I've thought it would be easier to blog about who isn't complaining to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner ...

A Vancouver man is taking his complaint about foreign outsourcing of studen loans to the Privacy Commissioner, according to the Georgia Straight: Student-Debt Activist Seeks Privacy Probe:

"A Vancouver man has asked the federal privacy commissioner to investigate the outsourcing of Canada student loans to a U.S.-owned company. Mark O'Meara, founder of the Web site, claimed that as a result of a recent corporate takeover, Nebraska-based Nelnet has access to all federal student debtors' personal information and financial data.

On December 6, Nelnet announced that its wholly owned Canadian subsidiary had completed its purchase of a CIBC subsidiary, Edulinx Canada Corp., which administers the Canada Student Loans Program on behalf of the federal government. According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, more than 1.8 million students have borrowed approximately $15.6 billion through the Canada Student Loans Program since 1993.

In an e-mail to the Straight, O'Meara stated that the federal privacy commissioner should examine whether student-loan data is now subject to the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). Under Section 215 of the act, the FBI is permitted to obtain secret court orders to obtain "any tangible things".

On October 29, provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis released a report concluding that there is a "reasonable possibility" of unauthorized disclosure of personal information under the USA PATRIOT Act. He issued numerous recommendations to mitigate this risk.

O'Meara claimed that the federal privacy commissioner's office never responded to his e-mail asking for an investigation. Federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart also did not respond to the Straight's request for an interview by deadline.

Nelnet's Nebraska-based spokesperson, Ben Kiser, told the Straight that nothing will change for students and borrowers as a result of the change in ownership. "Edulinx will remain a Canadian firm with operations in Canada," he said. "That means all processing, call-centre, data-storage, records-storage, and other student-loan functions will continue to take place exclusively in Canada."

Last August, however, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a submission to Loukidelis claiming that the FBI could obtain personal records stored by a subsidiary of a U.S. corporation operating in another country. In one instance, a U.S. grand jury subpoenaed a foreign-bank employee while he was on U.S. soil. In a separate submission filed by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer claimed that the USA PATRIOT Act could enable the FBI to obtain entire databases of personal records without notifying anyone."

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