The government that characterized the long-form census as unduly intrusive is increasingly lifting Canadians’ personal information from their social networking websites, according to the federal privacy watchdog.
In a letter to Treasury Board President Tony Clement, interim privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier said an “increasing number” of government institutions are collecting publicly available personal information from sites like Facebook and Twitter “without any direct relation to a program or activity.”
“We are seeing evidence that personal information is being collected by government institutions from social media sites without regard for accuracy, currency and accountability,” Bernier wrote in the February letter obtained by the Star.
“Should information culled from these sites be used to make administrative decisions about individuals, it is incumbent upon government institutions to ensure the accuracy of this information; it is not at all clear that this obligation is being, or could be, met.”
Bernier’s office flagged government surveillance of social media in a January special report to Parliament, but snooping and collecting data are two different things under the Privacy Act.
The letter notes that while publicly available information can be used by the government, it cannot be collected except for a specific program or activity. The Privacy Act also requires the government to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the information gathered. It’s not known whether authorities are complying with either obligation.
Bernier’s office is calling on Treasury Board to develop specific guidelines for the “collection, use and dissemination” of information gathered through online sources, including social media sites.
On Monday, Clement said he was “a bit skeptical” of Bernier’s concerns.
“Canadians willingly put onto social media all sorts of information, so it should not be a surprise that corporations, individuals, good guys, bad guys, and governments are collecting the freely available information they put on social media sites,” Clement said.
Federal government is ‘creeping’ your Facebook page