Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier, shown in this 2009 photo, was notified of the data breach on April 10. The job of the Privacy Commissioner's office is to scrutinize and criticize the privacy practices of other government departments and private companies. After reading an interim report on the lost data, she told reporters " it is humbling"
Photo Credit: Canadian Press

Oops! Privacy Commissioner’s office loses personal data


 After several reports of various government agencies, misplacing or having the computerized data of citizens stolen, the Privacy Commissioner’s office is now in the spotlight for the same thing.

An unencrypted hard drive containing the salary information of about 800 current and former employees cannot be found.

The device is thought to have disappeared in mid-February during an office move from the capital, Ottawa, to new space in Gatineau (formerly Hull) Quebec. The loss was first noticed a month later and then reported at a staff meeting two months later on April 17.

“This is humbling,” Chantal Bernier, 

The main jobs of the federal privacy watchdog are to publicly scrutinize and criticize the privacy practices of other government departments and private companies, and to recommend privacy best practices.

Ms Bernier was informed of the situation on April 10 and said  “ the words that really capture this best is that it is humbling”, during an interview on Friday after receiving a draught of the internal review. She added that after the April 17th meeting with staff, “our office’s reputation is what they are concerned about”

The information dates back 12 years to 2002, even though the government’s own rules say such information should not be kept more than seven years.  The data includes employee names, salaries, internal ID numbers, other payment information and job classifications for both current and former employees in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Office of the Information Commissioner.

The office is also arranging for an external review, which will be conducted by ad hoc privacy commissioner John Sims, retired deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of Canada, if he thinks it necessary.  In a letter to Simms, Bernier said both the former and current offices have been searched several times, but the drive has not been found.

Bernier said the RCMP-the federal police force- has not been asked to investigate because it is believed the hard drive was not taken for malicious purposes.   She adds that although the drive was unencrypted, the data was saved in a format that is “not easy to read” without specific software and technical knowledge on how to use it.   “It’s codes, it’s very fragmented, it’s very difficult to make sense of any information,” she said. However, she acknowledged that it would be possible for someone with the right skills and software to read the drive.

(with files from CBC)

Losses of personal data of Canadian citizens

Posted in Politics, Society

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2 comments on “Oops! Privacy Commissioner’s office loses personal data
  1. Peter Ashcroft says:

    I had not realised that Gatineau and Hull are the same place on the other side of the river from Ottawa

  2. Edward Schweikert says:

    I warned RCI back when Radio Canada broadcast on shortwave. The politicians ignored me. Now, they must pay the penalty.