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.
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.
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.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
A Halifax resident was more than slightly surprised when he went to the Canada Revenue Agency to pick up his requested notice of assessment. While the notice was conspicuously absent from the envelope, he did find a raft of information about ten complete strangers. Apparently, the CRA stuffed the wrong envelopes and handed over confidential and sensitive information to the wrong person.
When the individual who received the information was not satisfied with the CRA's reaction, he called the other taxpayers and went to the media. The story is on the front page of the Halifax Chronicle Herald.
To make matters worse, the notice of assessment was mailed but nobody knows who to.
CTV is doing a piece for the supper hour news here in Halifax, for which I was interviewed earlier today. They are hoping to get some comment from the unshuffled Minister responsible for CRA.
From today's paper:
More than he wanted to know
Government mistakenly mails other people’s tax papers to Whites Lake man
By JOHN GILLIS Staff Reporter
Andrew Doiron of Whites Lake just wanted to find out his RRSP contribution limit for the year. But what he got was a raft of personal information about 10 strangers from as far away as British Columbia.
The Canada Revenue Agency is now investigating how the confidential tax documents landed in Mr. Doiron’s mailbox and where the information he requested ended up.
"It looks like somebody just picked a handful of paper off a printer and just slipped it in an envelope with my (address) page on top," Mr. Doiron said Wednesday. "But of course they didn’t put my papers in there."
The confusion began Dec. 20 when Mr. Doiron went to the Canada Revenue Agency’s Halifax office in person to ask for a copy of his notice of assessment. He was told he had to call a toll-free number to ask for the document. Staff let him use a phone in the building.
Mr. Doiron was surprised Tuesday when he found an envelope from the agency in his mailbox, and it contained about 35 pages. The documents bore the names, addresses, social insurance numbers, income, marital status and other personal information for 10 other people. His own notice of assessment was not included.
He immediately called a toll-free Canada Revenue Agency number again but said it was tough to persuade the person who answered to let him speak to a supervisor. When he finally did, he said he was asked to mail the documents back to the agency and advised he could claim the price of the postage stamp on his tax return next year.
Mr. Doiron also called as many of the people whose tax information he’d been sent as possible.
One, Sandra Ambersley of Brampton, Ont., told CTV she was very concerned about what might have happened if someone had wanted to use that information.
"I was totally shocked yesterday when I received a call from Halifax, this man saying that he’d received all my personal information," she said Wednesday.
Mr. Doiron noted that on the same online telephone directory he used to find people’s telephone numbers, there was an ad pointing to a Capital One credit card application that required only an address and a social insurance number.
He personally returned all the strangers’ documents to the Halifax office Wednesday.
Mr. Doiron said he felt he did not get a serious response from the agency until after he began contacting the media.
Jack Lee, acting director of the Nova Scotia office, called to apologize and had a copy of the notice of assessment Mr. Doiron requested sent to him. It arrived safely.
The notice had been mailed previously, but not to him.
"Mine’s out there somewhere, floating around," Mr. Doiron said. "I hope somebody threw it away."
Canada Revenue Agency spokesman Roy Jamieson said security is the No. 1 priority for the service, but mistakes happen.
"We’re certainly scrambling to try and piece together what took place," he said. "There’s quite an active and quite an intense investigation going on right now."
He said a call to a toll-free number could be answered at any one of a number of call centres across the country, depending in part on the nature of the request. A requested document could be printed at the appropriate location and mailed from there.
The agency sends about 90 million pieces of mail per year and it’s rare that something gets mixed up, he said.
"To be misdirected in the magnitude of this case, it’s certainly unusual," Mr. Jamieson said.
He said the agency will contact all of the people whose documents were involved and will keep Mr. Doiron abreast of its investigation into the mix-up.
"There’s no question that any kind of breach of security and compromising of an individual’s privacy and confidentiality is our most significant issue in this agency," Mr. Jamieson said.
Mr. Doiron has little confidence that anything will change.
"My gut feeling is, this is government, nothing’s going to happen," he said.
Update: From CTV:
Canada Revenue investigates botched mailout
The Canada Revenue Agency is scrambling to restore public trust and has launched an internal investigation after confidential information on several Canadians was sent to a Halifax-area man.
Documents that Andy Doiron of White's Lake, N.S., were mistakenly sent include social insurance numbers, income, addresses and the marital status of 10 Canadians, including some from as far west as Edmonton.
Doiron said he called most of the people to tell them what happened, and returned the documents to Revenue Canada.
With the trust of Canadians potentially on the line and tax time just around the corner, the agency is promising tough action if necessary.
Revenue Canada spokesperson Roy Jamieson called the incident a rare case of misdirected mail, but admitted somebody in the department made a mistake.
"Certainly if we identify breaches of policy process and procedure, there are disciplinary measures that can be taken and I expect they will be looked at quite seriously," he told CTV Atlantic.
Federal Minister of National Revenue Carol Skelton said she was "disturbed" by the security breach.
"The instant that I found out about it we had launched an investigation," she told CTV News in Saskatoon. "I really can't say much more about it than that. The incident is being looked into."
The agency is still trying to determine which one of five locations was responsible for the botched mail out.
David Fraser, a legal expert in security matters, told CTV Halifax that if such information were to fall in the wrong hands, it could easily be used to commit fraud.
"There really does need to be something done in order to make sure the trust is always there. Accidents happen but so often trust is won or lost in the aftermath of how they decide to deal with it," he said.
Sandra Ambersley of Brampton, Ont. was one of the people Dorion called.
"I was totally shocked when I received the call (on Tuesday) from Halifax," Ambersley told CTV Toronto.
"This man (was) telling me that he received all my personal information. As a joke he did say 'I could duplicate you right now.'"
The confusion began when Doiron called the revenue agency on Dec. 20 requesting a copy of his notice of assessment.
On Tuesday, an envelope from the agency arrived in his mailbox, containing over 30 pages of documents with all the information. His own assessment wasn't included.
Doiron said he immediately called the toll-free Canada Revenue Agency number again and he was asked to mail the documents immediately.
With a report from CTV Atlantic reporter Marc Patrone.
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