Feds Divulge 25,000 Files

Passport Canada is providing names, ages, addresses and other confidential data of 25,000 passport owners to a pollster, Blacklock’s has learned.

The agency proposes to randomly select thousands of citizens’ personal information for a winter-long survey on customer satisfaction. Passport Canada refused an interview.

“This troubles me,” said MP John McCallum, Liberal citizenship critic; “I think it is a bit much for the government to give this information to a polling company.”

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner said it was unaware of the passport poll. In 2009 it cited the RCMP for passing thousands of names of registered gun owners to Ekos Research Associates Inc. for a similar client survey. The commissioner noted that polling was not unlawful, and Ekos was obliged to swear an oath of confidentiality. However the commissioner said authorities “could have done some things better” in assuring gun owners their privacy was protected.

Passport Canada’s marketing research follows a 38 percent increase in fees last July 1 to $120 for a standard passport. The agency proposes to “assess client satisfaction” through a $65,000 telephone survey of Canadians who received passports in the six months before the rate increase took effect.

Managers determined at least 25,000 passport holders must be contacted to find at least one-tenth who agree to a fifteen-minute interview.

“If I was called my first question would be, ‘How did you know I received a passport?’” said McCallum, MP for Markham-Unionville, Ont. “Why should they have that information about me? That would be my first reaction. It’s troubling that this information could be transferred to a polling company.”

Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander, the cabinet member responsible for the agency, was unavailable for comment.

Passport Canada said in a notice it would scan its files to find English- and French-speaking Canadians, male and female, aged 16 and over who received a passport between last January and June: “Citizenship & Immigration Canada will provide lists of names of clients.”

Managers noted they do not retain telephone numbers for passport holders, and that pollsters would be responsible for tracking down individuals’ contact information.

“Privacy protection is going to become a bigger and bigger issue as time goes by,” said McCallum, a former revenue minister. “With the power of technology, things that never used to be a challenge will be now.”

Passport Canada said in its notice that all Canadians who apply for travel documents implicitly agree to be contacted for “consultation about the serve they received”, but did not elaborate.

“It is anticipated to undertake surveys twice a year,” the agency said.

Passport fees were raised as a cost-recovery measure after authorities calculated they lost $4.59 on every passport issued.

Some 22 million passports are currently in circulation, by official estimate.

By Tom Korski

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