St. John’s lawyer Bob Buckingham acknowledged Canadian residents whose personal information has been compromised by a lost hard drive from a government office in Quebec are alarmed at the breach in privacy.
He told TC Media last week that concern has been underlined by the number of people who have contacted his office since he announced plans last week to launch a class-action lawsuit against the federal Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
The portable external hard drive, which was discovered missing Nov. 5 but not reported to Canadians until Jan. 11, contained personal and financial data on some 583,000 people who borrowed student loan between 2000 and 2006.
Mr. Buckingham was getting ready to go to court to file the lawsuit when he spoke to TC Media.
“We’ve had 100,000 hits to our webpage. We’ve had over 6,000 people contact us by filling out contact forms. We’ve had numerous other emails. We’ve had hundreds of telephone calls and thousands of hits to our Facebook page.
“People are primarily concerned about identity theft and how this can be used, and people are also concerned that when they filled out these forms, they had to give information about their families. “If you were dependent, you had to give information about your parents, and the parents also had to provide information about other dependents, siblings. There’s a concern that all that information may be lost and compromised. If that’s the case, and it’s fallen into wrong hands, people can reconstruct full families.”
Counted among the information contained on the hard drive were names, addresses, phone numbers and Social Insurance Numbers (SIN).
Mr. Buckingham’s office issues a news release after the lawsuit had been filed estimating the breach of privacy affects a minimum two million Canadians.
N.L. STUDENTS AFFECTED
It’s estimated the information of approximately 18,000 former students from of Newfoundland and Labrador was contained on the missing hard drive.
Tradesperson Travis Hann, 28, a resident of Spanish Room who works on rotation in Alberta, is among them.
He told TC Media he learned about the missing hard drive when he saw a post on Facebook from a friend whose information was lost.
“It’s almost like we’ve been violated in some sense of the word.”
After waiting on hold for almost an hour, Mr. Hann confirmed he was also affected when he called the toll-free phone number that has set up for verification purposes.
When he finally got through, the operator on the other end said he would receive a letter in the mail explaining how to protect himself from identity theft.
Mr. Hann said he was told government believed the hard drive was most likely just missing.
He expressed doubt.
“I’m pretty confident it was stolen. Somebody somewhere has got access to all our information, and I don’t feel to comfortable about it to tell you the truth.”
He said he had not yet contacted Mr. Buckingham at that point but was considering doing so.
PROTECTION COMES FIRST
Mr. Buckingham told TC Media the primary concern of those affected is how government can be brought to task to protect them from fraudulent activities.
“People are not concerned about the financial remuneration. That’s going to be remuneration for inconvenience and time and things of that nature. They want to know what the government is going to do to protect them, and that’s going to be the first thing.
“We’ll be seeking an order from the court with respect to that, and we’ll be presenting expert evident at the trial on what’s going to be needed.”
Mr. Buckingham suggested the missing information could have an impact for decades to come.
“There’s a long-term implication with respect to this loss that people are frightened about so we’re going to ask the court to address that, and also we’re going to be looking for compensation.”
In the Jan. 11 statement HRSDC Minister Diane Finley released revealing the privacy breach, she called the incident both unacceptable and avoidable.
She said she had expressed her disappointment to departmental officials and directed them to take a number of immediate actions to ensure that a similar situation does not happen again in the future.
Minister Finley indicated government would be working with a number of external partners to ensure Canadians are aware of the data loss.
She said the Office of the Privacy Commissioner had been consulted on the matter and indicated, given the serious nature of the incident, the RCMP were also involved.
“I have requested that HRSDC employees across Canada receive comprehensive communications on the seriousness of these recent incidents and that they participate in mandatory training on a new security policy to ensure that similar situations do not occur again.
“Further, I have instructed that the new policy contain disciplinary measures that will be implemented for staff, up to and including termination, should the strict codes of privacy and security not be followed.”
Among the highlights of the HRSDC’s new policy for storing secure information:
- New, stricter protocols to be implemented immediately. Portable hard drives are no longer permitted. Unapproved USB keys are not to be connected to the network;
- Immediate risk assessments of all portable security devices used in the department’s work environment to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place; these assessments will continue on a regular, ongoing basis;
- Mandatory training for all employees regarding the proper handling of sensitive information, including personal information;
- Implement new data loss prevention technology, which can be configured to control or prevent the transfer of sensitive information;
- Disciplinary measures that will be implemented for staff, up to and including termination, should the strict codes of privacy and security not be followed.
Random-Burin-St. George’s MP Judy Foote also weighed in on the incident in a Tuesday news release.
She said she was shocked by the latest privacy breach under the Conservatives.
“The government must make sure that these types of security breaches stop happening. Whether it is improper use of private information at Veterans Affairs, introducing the contentious Bill C-30 aimed at invading personal Internet privacy, or now losing important personal information at HRSDC, it is clear that the Harper government is not doing enough to protect the privacy of Canadians.”
She charged the Conservatives for not taking the privacy of individuals seriously enough.
“Many of these student loan borrowers have recently graduated and are now finding themselves straddled with their student loan debt and with slim prospects of finding employment in a fragile economy. They should not have to also worry about their government being careless with their personal information.”
Anyone who thinks they may have been affected by the recent privacy breach at the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada can call toll free to 1-866-885-1866 to verify whether their information has been compromised.