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Source: Toronto Star

Posted on May 31, 2007

      Businesses fail to protect privacy: Watchdog

      Too many businesses are failing to train staff in how to handle personal information, putting consumers at risk of identity theft, says Canada's privacy commissioner.

      Recent data breaches have reinforced worries about both domestic security issues and how information flows across the border, Jennifer Stoddart said in her 2006 annual report, tabled Thursday in the House of Commons.

      Data breaches are becoming more regular occurrences.

      The privacy commissioner's office was involved in two major data breach investigations last year.

      One was a joint investigation with the information and privacy commissioner of Alberta, Frank Work, into a breach of the database at TJX Companies Inc., the operator of Winners and HomeSense stores across Canada.

      Hackers allegedly got into the company's database, which contained the personal information of Canadian customers.

      Another investigation involved a breach at a subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

      In that case, involving the personal information of close to half a million clients of Talvest Mutual Funds, CIBC asked the commissioner to investigate the disappearance of a hard drive.

      It contained the personal information and financial data of approximately 470,000 Talvest clients.

      The commissioner's report didn't say whether the personal information involved in either investigation was compromised.

      Still, businesses must realize the importance of living up to the law's privacy-protection principles and the consequences of failing to do so, said Stoddart.

      Especially troublesome, she noted, was the fact that few businesses had taught their personnel how to deal with privacy issues.

      "I am particularly concerned to see that only a third of businesses have provided privacy training for staff," Stoddart said in a statement.

      "Good training is absolutely essential to prevent privacy breaches."

      Stoddart said Canadians have a right to expect private companies and organizations to safeguard their personal information.

      High-profile data breaches among a few well-known banking and retail organizations during 2006 may have reinforced the serious nature of privacy breaches and the need to better protect personal information, but Stoddart's report also noted that complaints against some of the major sectors covered by the act since 2001 have declined slightly.

      However, industries which have been subject to the law only since 2004, such as the retail and accommodation sectors, saw more complaints than in previous years.

      Overall, there were 424 complaints about privacy breaches in 2006, compared with 400 in 2005.

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