Commons ethics committee wants cellphone data collection halted over privacy concerns

Commons ethics committee wants cellphone data collection halted over privacy concerns
Photo credit: Jessica Ticozzelli/Pexels

OTTAWA — The House of Commons ethics committee says there should be a halt to Public Health Agency plans to collect data from millions of people’s mobile phones, which is intended to understand travel patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The committee passed a motion Monday calling on the government to suspend plans to extend the collection of cellphone location data until it is satisfied that the privacy of Canadians will not be affected.

Committee members held an emergency meeting during Parliament’s winter break after the Public Health Agency published a notice indicating its plans to extend the data-collection practice.

Conservative, Bloc Québécois and NDP MPs on the committee have raised privacy concerns, but Liberal MPs have pointed out the data being collected is anonymous.

John Brassard, Conservative Ethics spokesman who sits on the committee, says the motion means the prime minister should now suspend the proposal to extend the collection of millions of people’s mobile-phone data.

The Public Health Agency, which did not immediately comment, has previously said that location data from cellphone towers would be stripped of personal identifiers.

It said it has also taken advice from privacy and ethics experts.

Brassard said there were significant concerns about whether enough security measures have been put in place to protect privacy when the Public Health Agency first collected data of millions of Canadians.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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