Ottawa: Canadians’ movements, including trips to the liquor store and pharmacy, were closely tracked via their mobile phones without their knowledge during the COVID-19 pandemic, a report sent to a parliamentary committee shows.
Outbreak intelligence analysts BlueDot prepared reports using anonymized data for the Public Health Agency of Canada to help it understand travel patterns during the
The federal government provided one of these reports to the House of Commons ethics committee as it probed the collection and use of mobile phone data by the public health agency. The report reveals the agency was able to view a detailed snapshot of people’s behaviour, including visits to the grocery store, gatherings with family and friends, time spent at home and trips to other towns and provinces.
MPs on the ethics committee expressed surprise at how much detail the report contained, even as all identifying information was stripped out.“Questions remain about the specifics of the data provided ? if Canadians’ rights were violated, and what advice the Liberal government was given,’’ said Damien Kurek, Conservative MP for Battle River-Crowfoot.
The committee on Wednesday released a report on its overall probe into the agency’s collection of phone data during the pandemic. It concluded the government should tell Canadians if it collects data about their movements and allow them to opt out.
The Public Health Agency said it took safeguarding Canadians’ privacy very seriously and the analysis on Canadians’ movements it received “is not about following individuals’ trips to a specific location, but rather in understanding whether the number of visits to specific locations have increased or decreased over time.’’
“For example, point-of-interest data from BlueDot identifies the number of visits to grocery stores, parks, liquor stores and hospitals,’’ a spokesman said. “All we receive is the location of the point of interest and the number of visits for a specific day.’’
Adam van Koeverden, parliamentary secretary to the minister of health, sent the sample BlueDot report to the ethics committee on Jan. 31. It covers movements in September 2021.
The report provides information on how many people were moving between specific towns, such as the border community of Abbotsford, B.C., as well as provinces and territories. It shows movements across the Canada-U.S. border, comparing travel to previous weeks and years going back to 2019.
By Marie Woolf
The Canadian Press