Data collection by public health | To be investigated by the House of Commons ethics committee

(Ottawa) The House of Commons ethics committee is expected to hold an emergency meeting this weekend to investigate the public health system’s decision to collect data from millions of cell phones to understand travel patterns during epidemics.

Mary Wolf
Canadian Press

The House of Commons is still on vacation, but Conservative and Black MPs have called for an urgent meeting with the group. The agency is trying to extend the data collection process by one year.

The first data monitoring contract expired in the fall. On December 16, the Public Health Agency of Canada issued a new call for tenders to track cell tower location data across 1 nationwide.There is January 2019 and May 31, 2023.

The notice states that the data must be accurate, accessible and expeditious, as well as guarantee confidentiality and transparency. They should not contain personal identifiers.

Pat Kelly, Calgary’s Conservative MP, chairman of the ethics committee, told The Canadian Press that he was “consulting with members of all parties and holding a meeting this weekend to examine the implications of fundraising for cell phone privacy monitoring data.”

Last week, Conservative MP John Brassard wrote a letter to Privacy Commissioner Daniel Theron asking for an inquiry. Mr Prasard said the public health agency’s data collection was tantamount to tracking Canadians and raising several “red flags” about privacy.

On Monday, he called for an emergency meeting of the ethics committee. He wrote a letter to Kelly.

“Responding to COVID-19 will lead to a permanent setback in the rights and freedoms of Canadians,” he told a news conference in Ottawa.

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He wants to know what steps have been taken to protect privacy.

Bloc Québécois spokeswoman for ethics, René Villemure, said Friday that Mr. He made a similar request to Kelly and said that the committee had the power to suspend the call for tenders pending the outcome of the investigation.

Mr Wilmure noted that starting the process with public health shortly before parliament was adjourned “seemed to him more of an opaque process than a transparent one.”

Matthew Green, an NDP member of the ethics committee, wants further follow-up during the trial.

Cellphone data collection “infiltrates the privacy of Canadians, what kind of information the government collects and plans to collect about them,” Mr Green said.

A spokesman for the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement on Monday that the company was consulting with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on every step of the data collection to “ensure that access and use of mobility data follow best practices”.

The report states that the company will only consider bids for data collection agreements “from vendors that meet the strict security, legal, confidentiality and transparency requirements of the Government of Canada”.

“This means that subcontractors must prove that the data they provide is anonymous, consolidated, cleaned up and processed in advance by removing all personal identifiers,” the company added.

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