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Thirteen federal departments and agencies use tools capable of retrieving and analyzing data contained on electronic devices, including text messages, contacts, photos, travel history, Internet search history of a person, deleted content and social media activity. (Archive photo)


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Officials and cybersecurity experts call the use of personal data extraction tools by some federal departments shocking and question why a government agency would need to ;such access to private information of citizens.

A Radio-Canada article published Wednesday explains how 13 federal departments and agencies are using tools capable of retrieving and analyzing data contained in electronic devices, including text messages, contacts, photos, files, etc. travel history, a person's internet search history, deleted content, and social media activity.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canada Revenue Agency, Global Affairs Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, Department of National Defense, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Canada and several other institutions use this technology.

Some departments say they use these tools in investigations after having obtained judicial authorizations, such as search warrants.

Others indicated be used to conduct internal investigations, for example when an employee is suspected of fraud or harassment in the workplace, in accordance with internal protocols on the collection and storage of personal data to ensure its protection.

Other departments say they use them to maintain the integrity of computer systems.

But according to the written responses of the ministries to questions from Radio-Canada, none had carried out a privacy impact assessment (PIA), as required by a directive from the Secrétariat du Conseil du Conseil Trésor (SCT) before any new activity of collection or processing of personal information. A PIA helps identify potential privacy risks and measures to mitigate or eliminate these risks.

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Jennifer Carr, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (Archive photo)

We are very concerned, reacted the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), Jennifer Carr. We must ensure that if our personal information is collected, we know what information is being collected, how it is used, and how it might be affected if others were able to access it.

In a written statement provided to CBC News, National President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Chris Aylward, called the use of such technology alarming. without a privacy assessment, which he says reflects a deliberate lack of transparency and accountability on the part of federal departments and agencies.

The President of the Treasury Board, Anita Anand, declined Radio-Canada's interview request, but according to her office, each federal institution is responsible for applying the laws and privacy policies.

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The President of the Council of the Treasury, Anita Anand (Archive photo)

Expert in data management and privacy protection and president of the Vancouver-based firm Kirke Management Consulting, Ale Brown, however, believes that government agencies must be subject to higher standards when it comes to protecting citizens' private information.

While she is not surprised that federal departments and agencies are using the technology, Brown says what is surprising is that none have conducted an assessment of the factors to privacy as required by the Treasury Board Secretariat.

You must inform people of what you collect, for what purpose, how you are going to use it, who you are going to share this information with, says Brown. It does not appear that this was done very explicitly in this case.

Without this assessment, it is difficult to trust the #x27;government's use of personal data extraction tools, she added.

With information from Brigitte Bureau and Joseph Tuney and Nicole Williams from < /em>CBCNews

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