StatsCan doesn’t sell data

Editor:

Re: “Privacy woes arise amid StatsCan’s gathering of Canadians’ data” (Lakes District News, Jan. 23, 2019)

The article makes a number of inferences that fail to reflect the reality of how Canada’s national statistical agency operates. Statistics Canada would like to set the record straight.

We don’t collect data for ourselves. Rather, we produce high quality, timely and relevant statistics to meet Canadians’ information needs.

By law, we are obligated to protect the privacy and confidentiality of Canadians. We cannot ever hand over an individual’s personal information to enforcement agencies, to the revenue agency, to an elected official, and not even to the courts.

We do not sell individual records. The references in the article to an increasing cost-recovery business reflect increased requests for statistics from policy organizations. For them, we conduct survey programs to fill important data gaps on topics such as opioids awareness, the digital economy, Cannabis use pre and post legalization, Aboriginal Peoples and disabilities in Canada. Results from the surveys are published on our website and freely available to all Canadians.

Yes, for decades, Statistics Canada has also conducted custom tabulations to provide non-confidential, aggregate data to businesses and consultants. Often, they asked us to format publicly available data in a way that is not offered in our standard products (for example, for a different geographic area) to grow their business. We do not make any profit from this work; we recover the costs of doing these custom tabulations and ensure the taxpayer isn’t left with the bill.

As part of our modernization commitments, we have made an increasing amount of statistics and (again) non-confidential data available for free on our website for all Canadians to use in making well-informed decisions.

Most Canadians are aware of what we produce, value the information we provide, and trust us with their personal information. Over a hundred years, we have earned that trust. And while we experiment and pilot new ways of providing more timely and detailed statistics, we have not lost sight of our legal obligations, nor taken the trust that Canadians have in us for granted. We very much understand their concerns, and will continue to strengthen our processes and procedures, to be even more transparent with Canadians on how we protect their personal information.

We would appreciate you bringing this to the attention of your readers.

Anil Arora

Chief Statistician of Canada

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