Privacy breach in Canadian handgun consultations

Privacy breach in Canadian handgun consultations

Raymond Ayas Montreal QC

According to member of Parliament Pierre Paul-Hus, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair has admitted to a privacy breach in an online survey. Paul-Hus states the government recorded the IP addresses of everyone surveyed during the 2018 handgun ban consultations. When questioned as to how he knew the survey was submitted 130,000 times by Canadians, Blair answered:

I have been advised by the officials that were overseeing its implementation that there... there was... ways to determine the areas in which people were participating.

While the consultation process from Public Safety Canada is still ongoing, the online engagement session was only open between October 11 to November 10, 2018. It was marketed to Canadians as being administered in accordance with The Privacy Act. The privacy breach occurred during that 30-day period. Last October, a spokesperson from Blair's office claimed the questionnaire was,

designed to be an open, anonymous and barrier-free tool that will provide meaningful feedback to the Government of Canada, including from Canadians living and working abroad.

The tool was not so anonymous however. To "determine the areas in which people are participating", the government had to track the IP addresses of everyone surveyed. An IP address is a unique string of numbers separated by periods. It identifies each computer using the Internet Protocol, required to communicate over a network. Each computer accessing the internet does so through someone's account, held with an internet service provider. The servers on which the questionnaire was residing belong to the government. It follows that information tying each submission to a computer - and ultimately to a person - was not only tracked by the government, but also stored.

Privacy breach causes shock and outrage

Member of Parliament Pierre Paul-Hus believes this is a violation of privacy. He expressed himself on Twitter today:

Tracey Wilson, V.P. of Public Relations at the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, wonders if the government had the permission to acquire this information. She responded to our request for comments today.

It is painfully clear this government has no issues with extracting our data any way they can. Just look at the Stats Can/Banking info fiasco. My problem is there is no accountability either. I completed their survey and no where did it inform me my data and associated IP address was being collected. This is something I have asked legal to look at and I will be encouraging the official opposition to raise the alarm bells.

Wilson doesn't think the data collection was an accident, and she's disappointed.

I was really hoping for an honest dialogue, for once, in this country – about crime and violence and how we can work on solving it. Yet this appears to be just another Liberal game, a waste of time and resources, and worse – a violation of privacy of citizens across the globe.

A problematic questionnaire

It's not the first time Bill Blair's questionnaire is criticized. Brian Lilley has already described a number of serious flaws in Ottawa's handgun ban consultations. For example, anyone in the world could fill out the online survey. Furthermore, there was no limit on how many times a person could submit responses. That's open season for zealots with an agenda - or automated software - to answer multiple times. The technology to isolate IP addresses of respondents by country exists. There are also mechanisms to block repeated access, so it is a mystery why the government hasn't implemented any fail-safe procedures in their consultation.

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