The feds secretly tracked 33 million Canadians through their mobile devices by using cell towers locators to “understand the public’s responsiveness during lockdown measures,” says Blacklock’s Reporter.
“Due to the urgency of the pandemic, the agency collected and used mobility data such as cell tower location data throughout the COVID-19 response,” said Mark Johnson, spokesman for the
Public Health Agency (PHA)
“It was to help understand possible links between the movement of populations within Canada and COVID.”
The program was disclosed Monday as part of an effort “to be open and transparent,” said Johnson.
The admission followed a federal contractors’ notice indicating the PHA will permanently introduce cell tower tracking.
“The agency will use mobility data to describe and analyze population level trends,” said Johnson.
“Mobility data cannot be used to track or monitor individuals.”
Contractors must ensure information is “cleaned and processed,” said the PHA.
Any “demographic and population information” would not name individuals, it added.
Asked why the PHA tracked Canadians’ whereabouts, Johnson replied: “Mobility data analysis helps to advance public health objectives.”
Monitoring was introduced from the outbreak of the pandemic, he said.
“That’s why due to the urgency of the pandemic the agency collected and used mobility data,” he said.
Surveillance was to “analyze population movement data to better understand the public’s responsiveness during lockdown measures.
“Based on the agency’s COVID-19 experience and learnings from other countries, it aims to establish a long term supply of cell tower mobility data to help advance initiatives related to public health challenges including other infectious diseases, chronic disease prevention and mental health,” said Johnson.
The cost of the program was not disclosed.
The notice to contractors proposed the program be extended for up to five years.
“Analysis and findings from the mobility data have been regularly shared with provinces and territories,” said Johnson.
Cabinet to date has not legislated any pandemic privacy safeguards.
A federal advisory committee earlier this year disclosed aCOVID alert app downloaded by more than six million Canadians “could potentially extend beyond a government service to Canadians and the public health systems.”
“The Government of Canada must continue to carefully consider the risks of public perception and trust from a privacy perspective when considering additional data collection,” said the First Interim Report of the App Advisory Council.
“The expected outcomes associated with additional data collection should be clearly articulated.”
Cabinet introduced the app in 2020 to have COVID-19-infected mobile device users report their diagnosis to generate health warnings for others.
Less than 3% of Canadians infected with COVID-19 used the app alert.