MPs call on Commons committee to investigate health agency’s use of mobile data
Opposition MPs want the House of Commons Ethics Committee to investigate the Public Health Agency of Canada’s decision to collect data from millions of cell phones to understand travel patterns during the COVID pandemic.
Conservative and Bloc MPs say they want the committee to hold emergency meetings this month while the House of Commons is still on recess because the agency seeks to expand the practice.
Conservative MP John Brassard said the pandemic was being used as an excuse to invade the privacy of Canadians who were unaware that a government agency was collecting data on cell phones.
The collection was only revealed after the agency sought to expand the practice last month.
Brassard said it was “extremely alarming” that a government agency would use the pandemic as an excuse to secretly collect mobile data from Canadians without telling them. He said he wanted to know what safeguards were in place to protect privacy.
A request for proposals released on December 16 seeks access to national location data based on cell phone towers, devoid of personal identifiers, between January 1, 2019 and May 31, 2023.
The notice states that data collection should be accurate, accessible and timely while ensuring confidentiality and transparency.
Last week, Brassard wrote to Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien asking him to review the case. On Monday, he wrote Tory MP Pat Kelly, who chairs the Commons Privacy Committee, to request an emergency meeting.
Bloc ethics critic René Villemure wrote to Kelly on Friday requesting an emergency meeting on the same topic.
Villemure said the committee had the power to demand that the request for proposals be suspended and to launch an investigation into the matter to reassure Canadians about what is being done with their personal data.
In a media statement to CBC News, PHAC said analysis of “anonymous” mobility or location data helps inform policies, public health messages, measurement evaluation and other aspects. the government’s response to the pandemic.
“At every step, PHAC has consulted with privacy and ethics experts, including the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, to ensure that access to mobility data and their use follows best practices, ”the agency said.
“Note that PHAC will only use anonymized mobility or location data to understand the impacts of population movements on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the agency said, adding that this type of data on the movement of people. population can help predict risks for a particular geographic area and assess the effectiveness of pandemic measures based on how the population responds to public health directions and guidelines.