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Protecting Canadians' Personal Information at HRSDC

OTTAWA, ONTARIO -- (Marketwire) -- 01/11/13 -- The Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, has issued the following statement regarding the loss of an external hard drive from an HRSDC office in Gatineau, Quebec which contained personal information of 583,000 Canada Student Loans Program borrowers between 2000-2006:

Full details are available in the attached backgrounder.

"I want all Canadians to know that I have expressed my disappointment to departmental officials at this unacceptable and avoidable incident in handling Canadians' personal information. As a result, I have directed that departmental officials take a number of immediate actions to ensure that such an unnecessary situation does not happen again.

"The department will be making every effort to contact the individuals whose information was lost. This includes direct notification to those for whom we have current contact information. I am releasing all details on the breach publicly and we will be working with a number of external partners to ensure that Canadians are made aware of the data loss. The Department is continuing its investigation. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has been consulted. My office has engaged the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on this matter, given its serious nature.

"I have requested that HRSDC employees across Canada receive comprehensive communications on the seriousness of these recent incidents and that they participate in mandatory training on a new security policy to ensure that similar situations do not occur again. Further, I have instructed that the new policy contain disciplinary measures that will be implemented for staff, up to and including termination, should the strict codes of privacy and security not be followed.

"On behalf of our Government, I want to reassure Canadians that we are serious about protecting their personal information. As Minister, I will ensure that every effort is taken so that HRSDC meets the expectations of Canadians in keeping their information safe and secure."

This news release is available in alternative formats on request.

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IF THERE IS A DISCREPANCY BETWEEN ANY PRINTED VERSION AND THE ELECTRONIC VERSION OF THIS NEWS RELEASE, THE ELECTRONIC VERSION WILL PREVAIL.

BACKGROUNDER

In late 2012, the department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) informed the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of the loss of a USB key, which contained the personal information of over 5,000 Canadians.

--  While reviewing this incident, departmental officials learned of a
    subsequent serious loss of Canadians' personal information.

--  Although the search is ongoing, an external hard drive has been deemed
    lost from an HRSDC office in Gatineau, Quebec. 

--  The Department is continuing its investigation. The Office of the
    Privacy Commissioner has been consulted. The office of the Minister has
    engaged the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on this matter, given its
    serious nature. 

Details regarding loss of the hard drive

--  A hard drive containing personal information on 583,000 Canada Student
    Loans borrowers dated from 2000-2006 has been deemed lost at an HSRDC
    office in Gatineau, Quebec, although the search is ongoing.

--  The file contained information including student names, dates of birth,
    Social Insurance Numbers, addresses and student loan balances from
    recipients across the country (except Quebec, Nunavut and the Northwest
    Territories as they manage their own student loan programs).

--  Personal contact information of 250 HRSDC employees was also on the hard
    drive.

--  No banking or medical information was included on the drive.

--  The client information was saved onto an external hard drive as a back-
    up storage option.

Timeline of events

--  November 5, 2012: A HRSDC employee discovered that an external hard
    drive was missing. Search efforts began. 

--  November 28: The Departmental Security Officer was notified.  
    
--  December 6: Discovery that personal information of Canada Student Loans
    Program clients was on the hard drive. 
    

--  December 14: The Office of the Privacy Commissioner was notified. 

--  January 7: The incident was referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted
    Police. 

--  January 11: Canadian public was informed of the incident. 

Process for inquiries and more information

HRSDC is sending letters to individuals affected, for whom we have current contact information, to advise them of the incident and what steps to take to help protect their personal information.

A toll-free number has been set-up at 1-866-885-1866 (or 416-572-1113 for those outside of North America) for individuals to verify if they are affected by this incident, and to ask additional questions regarding this issue. Hours of operation will be 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. (EST), 7 days a week, starting Monday, January 14, 2013, for as long as needed.

People with a hearing or speech impairment and using a teletypewriter (TTY) can call 1-800-263-5883. Hours of operation will be 8:00 a.m. -8:00 p.m. (EST), 7 days a week, starting Monday, January 14, 2013, for as long as needed.

All details on this incident and how Canadians can protect their personal information are available at http://www.canlearn.ca/eng/main/spotlighton/privacy/index.shtml

New HRSDC policy for storing secure information

The Minister has directed that the overall policy for security and storage of personal information at HRSDC be strengthened and improved. The highlights are:

--  New, stricter protocols to be implemented immediately. Portable hard
    drives are no longer permitted. Unapproved USB keys are not to be
    connected to the network;

--  Immediate risk assessments of all portable security devices used in the
    Department's work environment to ensure that appropriate safeguards are
    in place; these assessments will continue on a regular, ongoing basis;

--  Mandatory training for all employees regarding the proper handling of
    sensitive information, including personal information;

--  Implement new data loss prevention technology, which can be configured
    to control or prevent the transfer of sensitive information;

--  Disciplinary measures that will be implemented for staff, up to and
    including termination, should the strict codes of privacy and security
    not be followed.

Contacts:
Alyson Queen
Office of Minister Finley
819-994-2482

Media Relations Office
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
819-994-5559

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