You might presume when you file your annual income tax the private and sensitive information you provide the government is confidential. Think again.
Information released recently under access to information laws expose privacy breaches that have occurred and continue to occur at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
In our new world of instant communication, much information is just a click away.
Privacy concerns are top of mind to many.
Businesses face the challenge of safeguarding their information. Losing valuable information about clients or exposing confidential information has been the cause for many businesses to fail.
In simple terms, privacy is a big deal.
The CRA spent over $10 million last year to protect confidential files. Give them an “A” for effort but a failing grade for achieving their objectives.
There are 40,000 employees at the CRA and two-thirds have computer access to sensitive and supposedly secure files.
Other government agencies have had privacy breaches and those often occur as a result of a mistake where sensitive information is exposed accidentally.
Apparently, that is not the case at the CRA.
Curious CRA employees have been proactive at searching through tax returns of friends, family, and business associates.
The persistent problem of privacy breaches was reported in 2009.
The federal Privacy Commissioner was assured that CRA had taken the appropriate action to stop its employees from snooping through confidential tax files.
In 2015, 30 cases of CRA staff members snooping through files were reported. In 2016 at least nine workers were caught accessing private information, and eight of those were fired.
There are three different component parts of the privacy issue.
Companies have a financial incentive to protect information about their clients. If the marketplace perceives a particular business is not capable of protecting private, sensitive information then clients will leave, and the firm will go out of business. Problem solved.
Unfortunately, poorly-run government departments and agencies do not go out of business when they fail to live up to expected standards. This places more onerous on the government and our elected parliamentarians to provide strict and competent oversight to ensure privacy is maintained.
The final component is you. Every Canadian has the responsibility to ensure their privacy is maintained.
Be vigilant and watch for any areas where your privacy has been compromised. Take all necessary steps to be proactive at protecting your private information.
Simple measures like not carrying your passport or social insurance number with you on a daily basis, because that information is not needed daily and should be kept in a more secure place. Shred all personal information before it is disposed of in the garbage or recycling bin.
As stated above, privacy is a big deal.
All of us, including the government, businesses, and individuals, should work at ensuring private information is kept private.