If you have a bank account in Canada, there’s a worrying chance that your information will be passed along to Statistics Canada, Canada’s national statistical agency, without your consent.
Television broadcast and online news company Global News recently found out that, beginning in January, the statistical agency will demand financial transaction information from a representative sample of 500,000 randomly chosen Canadians from nine different banks. The collected data will be used to track household spending and consumer trends.
Documents obtained by Global News reveal that the information that the agency is looking to collect includes sensitive individual-level financial transactions data, including bill payments, cash withdrawals from ATMs, credit card payments, electronic money transfers, and even account balances, as well as income history information and social insurance numbers.
It must also be noted that, since new samples will be chosen each year, the data pouring into Statistics Canada will inevitably grow to encompass millions of citizens.
The document does, however, recognize the “highly sensitive nature” of the data.
Banks Fighting Back
Canada’s biggest banks have not yet fully agreed to the project. But according to section 13 of the Statistics Act, the Chief Statistician is authorized to compel “the disclosure of, and obtain, any documents or records that are maintained in any department of any municipal office, corporation, business or organization, from which information is sought in respect of the objects of the Statistics Act.”
But despite the assurances that the “individual-level financial transactions data” will be used for statistical purposes only and that, once compiled, the data will be made anonymous, such a move will surely cause Canadians at least some degree of concern.
Speaking to Global News, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, rightly pointed out the negative repercussions of this request, saying that “most people would be surprised and devastated if they thought all of their financial information and bills and activity were being accessed in identifiable form by Statistics Canada or any branch of government.”