Telus gave info to government

There’s a real possibility the government held data that could be used to individually track the movements of MILLIONS. But instead of addressing these concerns honestly and fixing the problem, our government is obfuscating and taking advantage of their own shaky processes to sidestep their responsibility to YOU. Earlier this month we learned that the federal government (via Telus) obtained and used the location data of 33 million devices in Canada to monitor the development of COVID-19.1 We IMMEDIATELY pushed back by reaching out to opposition MPs and asking them to DEMAND answers to three critical questions:

  1. How are they claiming they got YOUR consent? (We didn’t sign anything - did you?)

  2. Can consent given to Telus be reasonably passed on to the government like this?

  3. Has this data actually been successfully “de-identified” - or could it be used to ID and track us individually?

So far, we’ve only got an answer on one of these questions and it is ALARMING. When asked whether the consent that Telus relied upon extends to the context in which the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) used the data, PHAC replied that it doesn’t matter.2 In their shocking view, they’ve determined that Canada’s privacy laws, which protect our personal information, DON’T APPLY. Even when the Office of the Privacy Commissioner offered to help ensure our data was safe, PHAC said “thanks, but no thanks” - they had already decided there were no privacy issues to worry about! This is ridiculous and a clear example of the government waiving basic rights when it is convenient for them, against the best interest of the people of Canada. So we’re done waiting: the time for a total revamp to Canada’s privacy laws is NOW. We can’t allow governments and corporations to play fast and loose with OUR DATA with no transparency and zero accountability. This is one of our biggest fights of 2022, but we need your help to make real change possible. To create the future we want and to protect our privacy in the digital age, we need to stand united. Will you stand with us?

Donate to Support the Fight NOW

PHAC claims that Canada’s privacy laws don’t apply in this scenario because, according to their analysis, the data has been fully and completely “anonymized”.3 We’re not convinced – and we’re not the only ones. This decision is now the subject of a new and ongoing investigation by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.4 Actually de-identifying data effectively is incredibly difficult; there’s a strong possibility the government received data on MILLIONS of people that could be easily relinked to specific members of the public, which raises real concerns around our fundamental right to privacy.5 Privacy Commissioner Therrien said in his testimony before the Committee that this is a major flaw in Canada’s badly outdated privacy laws.6 But to know more we’ll have to hear from Telus, who gathered and handled the data gathered in the first place. When will the ethics committee hear from Telus, you might be wondering? Despite searching their schedule high and low, you’ll find exactly ZERO interviews or testimony from Telus. This is unacceptable. Both the government AND the company that collected our data need to be responsible for and transparent about how they’re keeping it private. We need to continue to hold the government and Telus to account, and not allow these blatant holes in our privacy laws continue to fester. But we can’t do it without your help. Will you help support this fight?

Yes, I will help!

We’ve provided briefs to key opposition MPs on the ethics committee, and our new blog reports the state of affairs of their deliberation to you so far7. Thank you for standing with us. While our government is currently refusing to honestly report on what it has done here, we know that if we keep up the pressure we can hold them to account. We need to stand together and demand new privacy legislation that gives us protection in the digital age. When we stand together, we cannot be ignored. For a safe and surveillance-free Internet for everyone, Matt from OpenMedia, P.S. Don’t forget to donate today to help fight for privacy protection for all!

Sources

  1. Our Location Data: Three Essential Questions for the Ethics Committee. OpenMedia.

  2. Ethics committee summons Duclos, Tam on mobile-phone data collection during pandemic. CTV News.

  3. See 2.

  4. MPs back motion to halt COVID-19 phone data collection over privacy concerns. GlobalNews.

  5. De-identification guidelines for structured data. Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (PDF).

  6. Privacy commissioner: Few realized the government was tracking their pandemic movements. National Post.

  7. Our location data: What we know now. OpenMedia.