Canada’s privacy watchdog is probing federal officials’ use of “de-identified” cellphone location data to measure the efficacy of COVID-19 public health measures.
The Public Health Agency of Canada acknowledged last month it has been purchasing access to cellphone location data in order to analyze Canadians’ movements during the pandemic.
The agency has said the data is aggregated and “de-identified” — meaning it can’t be used to pinpoint individual Canadians’ locations or travel habits.
The program’s existence nevertheless raised concerns with privacy advocates and opposition politicians, who successfully forced an emergency Commons committee meeting on the issue.
A spokesperson for Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien confirmed his office has received multiple complaints about the program, and are now looking into how PHAC assured the data could not be used to track individuals.
“We were not asked for advice as to whether the means taken by or on behalf of the government provided adequate safeguards against re-identification. The government relied on other experts to that end, which is their prerogative,” wrote Tobi Cohen, a spokesperson for Therrien’s office, in a statement to Global News.