StatCan’s plans for banking info hints at larger trove, work on sensitive data

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OTTAWA — Canada’s privacy commissioner says Statistics Canada must put more safeguards on personal financial information it collects.

Daniel Therrien is telling a House of Commons committee that his just-launched probe of the statistical office’s plan to scoop up private banking information on 500,000 Canadians will test the limits of the agency’s powers to collect data from anyone in the country.

The agency is defending itself anew today about the banking project by having three of its senior officials take part in an online chat about the request from banks for everything from cash-machine withdrawals to credit-card payments to account balances.

The project hints at the larger trove of sensitive, personal information Statistics Canada sits on, including corporate and individual tax forms as well as health records.

Cost savings and improved data quality have prompted the agency’s reach for more “administrative data,” such as the banking information.

Former officials say there has been less talk publicly than there should have been about privacy implications — something they expect will change as Statistics Canada moves on initiatives far larger than the banking information project.