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Personal data vanishes with government briefcases

It is not uncommon for our Office to be alerted to incidents in which a public servant’s briefcase containing the personal information of Canadians is lost, temporarily misplaced or stolen.

Such situations may be very serious for Canadians whose personal information is compromised in the process. The losses, moreover, would be largely preventable if documents are simply left in secure premises.

More than a quarter-century since the passage of the Privacy Act, such breaches continue to underscore the need for vigilance in the handling of personal information by government employees.

In one notable case, a Justice Canada official on a business trip to Kingston, Ont. lost a briefcase containing the personal information of 145 taxpayers, including their social insurance numbers and some details of their investments in a tax shelter. The briefcase was not locked or secured and was never recovered by police.

The department informed the Canada Revenue Agency, which advised every affected individual in writing. Justice Canada also promised to train its employees about properly securing personal information.

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