Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Curb growth of commercial data mining

  • Print

Massive data breaches and intrusions into personal information have people buzzing about what's worse: getting scooped up in government collection of metadata from electronic communication, or having their private and financial information stolen by hackers who break into huge data banks at department stores where they have shopped.

That debate turns on whom you trust least. Governments have far greater power over the lives of individuals, but the routine collection of numerous bits of much more personal information by the private sector leaves consumers vulnerable in deeply intimate ways, and open to identity theft, which can send daily life into intractable turmoil.

In reality, Canadians, as with their American counterparts, are wondering how they can possibly keep safe financial and personal information that is increasingly amassed electronically -- browsing websites, purchasing online, debit or credit card transactions. All of which is stored in massive data banks and secured only by the integrity of commercial anti-virus software and firewalls.

The issue of privacy protection and regulation of data collection has taken on new import with the development of smart appliances that can be controlled by mobile electronic devices, such as smartphones. Regulating the thermostat, home alarm system or turning on the slow cooker all become bits of detail fed into private data banks capable of plotting patterns of individual behaviour.

And it is not only what commercial businesses do with that trove of information.

Target shoppers last fall discovered how vulnerable they were in the data-bank world when the retailing giant fell victim to a malicious software attack. The financial and personal information of up to 110 million customers was hacked. Recent news reports indicate the hackers have continued to hit other retailers in the U.S.

It is a wake-up call for Canadians. Consumer protection and privacy legislation in the U.S. demands privacy breaches at commercial operations are reported quickly to authorities. State by state, legislation compels consumer notification, although the rules are not standard and are often open to interpretation.

In Canada, notification to authorities and consumers is voluntary -- a huge hole in privacy law privacy commissioners have said must be fixed for meaningful protection of personal and financial information.

Former federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, in a farewell report last fall, again called for Canada's privacy legislation to be updated.

She noted Canada is far behind other nations fighting to keep up with the advance of electronic communication and data collection, which has edged into the field of facial recognition. Yes, your mug can be captured electronically in the aisle of a grocery or department store and become one more nugget in the trove of marketing information.

Under the Privacy Act, the privacy commissioner's office monitors breaches of government departmental data. It does the same for the activities of commercial entities under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act in seven provinces, including Manitoba, and the territories (the remaining three have their own commercial privacy laws).

Under both acts, however, reporting of breaches is voluntary.

The discussion reaches beyond what gets collected, when and whether consumers -- from the preteens posting on social media to moms managing the bank accounts -- can opt out of data tracking and storage.

It is about the limits of intrusion into private information, how it is stored with personal identifiers and shared, and how to protect individuals from new tracking devices that cannot be turned off by the computer user.

Further, Canada's privacy laws contain no penalties for transgressions or repeat offences. The privacy commissioner can only make recommendations, and non-compliance must be referred to the Federal Court.

There is no compelling reason why reporting of privacy breaches is not mandatory.

Privacy legislation, however, is in need of an overhaul that should be led by debate on how to curb commercial intrusion into the lives of individuals and thereby contain the threat hackers will plunder finances and steal identities.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2014 A6

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Key of Bart: Another Kick At A Paywall

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.
  • A young gosling flaps his wings after taking a bath in the duck pond at St Vital Park Tuesday morning- - Day 21– June 12, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Are you planning to go visit the new polar bear, Humphrey, at the Assiniboine Park Zoo?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google