Financial Literacy

Ontario bill aims to make it harder for banks to give up your data

By: Lisa Coxon on December 3, 2018

Banks will have an extra hurdle to clear before they're allowed to share sensitive client information if a new law gets passed in Ontario.

Bill 55, dubbed the Safeguarding our Information Act, was introduced by Stephen Crawford, a backbench Progressive Conservative MPP for Oakville. It passed second reading on Thursday at Queen’s Park, according to Canadian Underwriter.

If it becomes law, Bill 55 would require banks to obtain consent from clients before sharing their account information with any government organization that requests the data.

“In the past 10 years, the number of attacks has increased greatly,” said Crawford at Queen’s Park on Thursday, “including a data breach that impacted Home Depot in 2014; in 2017, Equifax was impacted by a data breach as well.”

The bill is partly a response to the outcry against Statistics Canada, which recently planned to make banks and credit reporting agencies divulge the financial information of 500,000 Canadian households.

That attempt to harvest consumer’s financial information prompted an investigation in November by the federal Privacy Commissioner. Statistics Canada announced Monday that it has suspended its practice of obtaining credit reports from TransUnion, which it has already been doing for more than a year, according to the Globe and Mail, and it’s still going to delay its plan to obtain the information of 500,000 households.

During question time, opposition MPPs came forward to voice their support for increased protections on consumer data.

Faisal Hassan, NDP MPP for York South-Weston, said, “Statistics Canada has told the public that it anonymizes information after they aggregate the financial data with the geographical data, but it is alarming to consider what could happen to the data in the process of being transferred and aggregated.”

Tom Rakocevic, NDP MPP for Humber River-Black Creek, said that if Statistics Canada went forward with its plan, it could gain access to consumer information regarding deposits, withdrawals, loan repayments and debit card purchases.

The province is still reeling from a data breach on consumer information last year when credit reporting agency Equifax was hacked, and the names, addresses, social insurance numbers and credit card numbers of more than 19,000 Canadians may have been stolen. The breach has since put Equifax at the centre of a class-action lawsuit in Ontario, according to Canadian Underwriter.

Privacy breaches south of the border also appear to be a motivating factor. Crawford referenced the Facebook scandal, in which as many as 87 million Facebook users’ data were accessed by data mining firm Cambridge Analytica without their consent, and used for political purposes.

That, Crawford told the legislature, “was a wake-up call for the world.”

“We live in a very different world than 30 years ago or even five or 10 years ago,” he said. “We need to update our laws, particularly with respect to consumer protection, to be in modern times, so that we can protect our consumers and banking information.”