Woman gets wrong letter in ‘deeply troubling’ privacy breach

When Donna Harris opened a letter addressed to her from Service Canada, she was shocked to find confidential information about a complete stranger.

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When Donna Harris opened a letter addressed to her from Service Canada, she was shocked to find confidential information about a complete stranger.

“This is troubling me deeply,” Harris said Wednesday.

“What if it had been reversed? What if my letter had been delivered to someone else?

“Would they be so conscientious?”

Harris received the letter Tuesday and learned she had been denied the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement. The letter included her name and address, social insurance number and her combined household income with her husband.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Donna Harris with two letters she received from Service Canada: one addressed to her and another belonging to another person, which was folded in with her letter in the same envelope sent from Ottawa.

But when Harris opened up a second folded piece of paper in the envelope, she realized a letter belonging to another Winnipegger had been sent to her in error.

“It’s a simple mistake — the letters were folded together — so it was probably a stuffing machine that needs re-calibration,” she said. “However, the information in that letter includes personal information.

“I’m not looking at any of that other person’s information. I don’t want to have it. I don’t want to see it.”

A spokesperson for Service Canada said they wouldn’t be able to comment on the matter until Thursday.

Winnipeg privacy lawyer Andrew Buck said privacy breaches are serious.

He said an organization should investigate any breach to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“It’s a simple mistake– the letters were folded together — so it was probably a stuffing machine that needs re-calibration. However, the information in that letter includes personal information.” – Donna Harris

He said the organization should also pay for credit checks to confirm the information hasn’t fallen into the wrong hands.

“They could open a bank account,” he said. “SINs are particularly sensitive.

“Certainly this is a regrettable incident. And, if you’re the victim, it is an unsettling feeling.”

Buck said every effort should be made to ensure the person who received the private info agrees not to use it.

“That will reduce the risk,” he said. “You hope people do the right thing.”

Harris said she plans to drop the letter at the person’s Winnipeg address and tell them what happened.

“If she’s not there, I will leave a note,” she said. “I wonder how many other people this has happened to?”

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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