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Canada’s public well being company admits it tracked 33 million cell gadgets all over lockdown

A Telus cell tower. The company provided anonymized location data from across Canada between March and October of 2021.

The Public Well being Company of Canada accessed information akin to cell-tower location to observe other folks’s process all over lockdown, it mentioned

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The Public Well being Company of Canada accessed location information from 33 million cell gadgets to observe other folks’s motion all over lockdown, the company published this week.


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“Because of the urgency of the pandemic, (PHAC) gathered and used mobility information, akin to cell-tower location information, all over the COVID-19 reaction,” a spokesperson advised Nationwide Put up. This system’s life was once first dropped at wider consideration through Blacklock’s Reporter.

PHAC used the positioning information to guage the effectiveness of public lockdown measures and make allowance the Company to “perceive conceivable hyperlinks between motion of populations inside Canada and unfold of COVID-19,” the spokesperson mentioned.

In March, the Company awarded a freelance to the Telus Knowledge For Excellent program to supply “de-identified and aggregated information” of motion tendencies in Canada. The contract expired in October and PHAC not has get entry to to the positioning information, the spokesperson mentioned.

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The Company is making plans to collect observe inhabitants motion for kind of the following 5 years, together with to deal with different public well being problems, akin to “different infectious illnesses, persistent illness prevention and psychological well being,” the spokesperson added.

Privateness advocates raised considerations to the Nationwide Put up in regards to the long-term implications of this system.

“I believe that the Canadian public will know about many different such unauthorized surveillance projects earlier than the pandemic is over—and afterwards,” David Lyon, creator of Pandemic Surveillance and previous director of the Surveillance Research Centre at Queen’s College, mentioned in an e mail.


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Lyon warned that PHAC “makes use of the similar types of ‘reassuring’ language as nationwide safety businesses use, for example now not bringing up probabilities for re-identifying information that has been ‘de-identified.’”

“In idea, after all, cellular information can be used for monitoring.”

Mobility information research “is helping to advance public well being targets,” the PHAC spokesperson mentioned. The findings were often shared with provinces and territories by the use of the particular advisory committee to “tell public well being messaging, making plans and coverage building,” the spokesperson mentioned.

The information may be used for the COVID Developments portal, a dashboard that gives a summarized information of motion tendencies.

Lyon steered a necessity for better knowledge “relating to precisely what was once achieved, what was once completed and whether or not or now not it in point of fact served the pursuits of Canadian voters.”

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Privacy advocates say public health monitoring jeopradizes user privacy.
Privateness advocates say public well being tracking jeopradizes consumer privateness. Record

Deploying surveillance gear for public well being functions additionally raises to the problem of fairness, Martin French, an affiliate professor of Concordia College that specialize in surveillance, privateness and social justice, famous in an e mail.

“There are populations that might revel in an intensification of monitoring that can have destructive (quite than really helpful) repercussions.”

Higher use of surveillance generation all over the COVID-19 pandemic has created a brand new standard within the title of safety, Lyon mentioned.

“The pandemic has created alternatives for an enormous surveillance surge on many ranges—now not just for public well being, but in addition for tracking the ones running, buying groceries and studying from house.”

“Proof is coming in from many resources, from nations all over the world, that what was once observed as an enormous surveillance surge—submit 9/11—is now utterly upstaged through pandemic surveillance,” he added.


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In a realize posted previous this week, the company known as for contractors with get entry to to “cell-tower/operator location information within the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and for different public well being programs.” It asks for “de-identified cell-tower based totally location information from throughout Canada” starting from from Jan. 2019 till the tip of the contract duration on Might 31, 2023, with risk of 3 one-year extensions.

The contractor will have to supply anonymized information to PHAC and make sure its customers be capable to simply opt-out of mobility information sharing systems, the company says.

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PHAC’s privateness control department carried out an evaluate and “made up our minds that since no private knowledge is being obtained via this contract, there are not any considerations below the Privateness Act,” the spokesperson mentioned.

The Place of job of the Privateness Commissioner mentioned it’s “following up with PHAC to acquire extra details about the proposed initiative” and may just now not supply further remark at the moment.



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