Federal government responds to student loan privacy breach
Marc Laferriere says he is frustrated that his personal information is among that of more than half a million Canadians on a hard drive lost by a federal government department late last year.
“I was told it is my social insurance number, name, date of birth, address and some financial information,” Laferriere said during a recent interview. “The federal government has privacy standards that are not being upheld.”
On Jan. 11, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada confirmed a missing external hard drive contained personal details of about 583,000 student loan borrowers between 2000 and 2006.
Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley recently said the loss of the hard drive is “unacceptable and avoidable.”
It was noticed missing from a Gatineau, Quebec, office by government employees on Nov. 5 last year. The hard drive included student names, social insurance numbers, dates of birth, addresses and student loan balances.
Borrowers in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Quebec were not affected by the loss of the hard drive.
“I have spoken with more than 30 local residents that have been affected,” said Laferriere, a Brantford resident and former federal NDP candidate in Brant riding. “The most frustrating thing is this information was lost in early December last year and we’re not finding out about it until mid-January. There is now a whole whack of things we have to do to try to safeguard our identities and credit ratings, including filing reports with credit monitoring services and having to go back through transactions. I just want my information safeguarded.
“I don’t think anyone appreciates the federal government being a potential source for identity thieves.”
In a media release posted online, Finley said her department is taking immediate steps to ensure such losses of information do not happen again.
“The department will be making every effort to contact the individuals whose information was lost,” Finley said. “This includes direct notification to those for whom we have current contact information. I am releasing all details on the breach publicly and we will be working with a number of external partners to ensure that Canadians are made aware of the data loss. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has been consulted. My office has engaged the RCMP on this matter, given its serious nature.”
A class-action lawsuit is expected to be filed against Human Resources and Skills Development Canada on behalf of those affected.
The federal government has set up a telephone number – 1-866-885-1866 – for those who think they have been affected.
~ With files from the