The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

For full contact information and a brief bio, please see David's profile.

Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients. I am not able to provide free legal advice. Any unsolicited information sent to David Fraser cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

MacLean's cover story on privacy and information brokers 

I pointed yesterday to a preview of MacLean's magazine's most recent cover story (see The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: That's a little cheeky: MacLean's Magazine buys Privacy Commissioner's cellphone records off the 'net). I saw the magazine on the new stand today and, luckily, the article is available on the MacLeans' website. A snippet: | Top Stories | Canada | You are exposed:

...Yet Maclean's was able to purchase the privacy commissioner's phone logs online from a U.S. data broker, no questions asked. For about US$200 per order, delivered months of long-distance records from her Bell Canada home and cottage accounts. They were also able to access her Telus Mobility cellphone call logs for October -- a monthly bill she probably hadn't even received at the time. And all the Internet requests were turned around in a matter of hours. (In a test run, the company was also able to obtain the cell records of a senior Maclean's editor from Fido, a division of Rogers, the company that owns this magazine.) Reverse phone number lookup engines on federal government and phone company websites provided the identities of many of the people Stoddart called, or who called her. On Sept. 15, for example, there was a call from her Montreal home to a relative in Frelighsburgh, Que. On Oct. 15, she called the house of one of her communications advisers from her cellphone. And on Oct. 27, she twice called the desk of another. While many of the numbers on the bills were cellphones or unlisted, anyone looking to fill in the blanks would only have to call until they hit voicemail recordings.

Confidential phone records are just the latest breach in the levee of government laws and corporate policies intended to protect private and personal data. Abuses -- whether it is medical records being scattered about a Toronto street as "garbage" for a film shoot, or Edmonton police running the names of pesky reporters and lawyers -- are reported almost every week. And in the wired world, almost anything is available for a price. A British teen recently tracked down his sperm-donor father using his own DNA and two different for-hire databases.

Many of the same websites that offer call records advertise even more invasive services like "personality profiles," complete with sexual preferences, names of exes, and gossip from neighbours. Or email and instant messenger traces that will provide the name of the person who owns the account, and their location, sometimes down to the street they live on. While some of the sites demand a signed release from the person being sought for items like credit reports and driver's records, the "verification" process wouldn't be much of an impediment for anyone willing to commit some garden-variety forgery.

Stoddart, whose office website offers tips to foil those trying to access or steal personal information -- including the prompt removal of incoming mail from your mailbox and shredding those pre-approved credit card applications -- was not a particularly easy catch. Despite her years in the public eye, and the numerous interviews she has given to journalists, there was little on the record beyond her professional qualifications. No one Maclean's contacted had her cellphone number, knew her home address, or even basic family information like the name of her spouse. "I've always been fairly mistrustful of people," she says. "If people want my personal data, I want to know why." Nonetheless, a thorough Internet search with Google yielded enough bits and pieces of information to start the process rolling.

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