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Border agency breaches privacy of refugee claimant

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Canada’s border agency breached a refugee claimant’s privacy when personal information that was encrypted on a USB key disappeared — with the password written on a Post-it note left wrapped around the device.

The USB key and the note have never been found and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) failed to report the incident, as required, for more than 18 months. The incident highlights longstanding criticisms of the border service’s commitment to safeguarding personal information.

The USB privacy breach occurred on Oct. 7, 2016, after an unidentified man came forward to ask for refugee status in Canada.

“The affected individual had [deleted] and made a refugee claim,” says a censored internal report, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

“He was carrying a USB [key] of information to support this claim and had asked that the CBSA make a copy of the USB so that he can keep his original.

“The USB key (the copy made by CBSA) was then lost during transport on its way to [deleted]. The USB key was encrypted but the password was on a post-it wrapped around the key …

“The Border Services Officer who mailed the USB key along with the password itself understands the obvious mistake made, and will be completing the Security Awareness Training as a refresher.”

A spokesperson for the border agency, Jayden Robertson, said the missing USB key has not been recovered. Robertson acknowledged that a “lack of understanding by implicated staff of its Privacy Breach Protocol, as well as human error, resulted in delays” in reporting the incident.

Reporting mandatory

Cases of serious breaches – called “material breaches” – must be reported soon after they occur to Canada’s privacy commissioner and to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. In the case of the missing USB key, those offices were not notified until May 25, 2018 — 595 days after the event.

The claimant’s National Identity Card — with his signature and information about his citizenship and nationality, date and place of birth, gender and one more category of information (which is censored in the released report) — was on the portable memory device.

Robertson said there have been no other breach incidents at the CBSA related to anyone seeking asylum or refugee protection. Robertson would not state whether the individual was successful in his refugee claim, saying the Privacy Act prevents disclosure, and would not say whether the officer was reprimanded.

The internal report says the individual was contacted by telephone to alert him to the breach; it quotes him as saying “that’s ok” and as expressing “no concern.”

… the employee’s network access was revoked.– CBSA report on action taken against a worker who divulged personal information to two people outside the country.

The CBSA’s annual privacy report to Parliament for 2017-2018 cites another major privacy breach in which an employee, without authorization, disclosed confidential personal information to two individuals outside the agency.

“In this case, the matter was investigated and the employee’s network access was revoked,” says the report, which provided no further details.

The border agency has been criticized previously by Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien for its sometimes cavalier attitude toward privacy.

Commercial airlines bringing people to Canada must submit to CBSA advance information about their passengers’ ages, genders and nationalities, the time they spent abroad, their travel patterns and other data for detailed security screening.

Computer algorithms do the first cut, currently flagging between 450 and 550 people each day for further review by CBSA officers, who then winnow down the number of suspicious travellers for special examination, further research and interviews. The algorithm-based screening process is known as ‘Scenario-Based Targeting’.

Red-flagged group

In 2018, 12,436 air travellers earmarked for this additional scrutiny were red-flagged for potential contraband, immigration and national-security issues, Robertson said.

A privacy review of the process by Therrien’s office in 2017 found that CBSA officers too often added unverified social-media information to an individual’s security file — such as Facebook postings — along with apparently non-relevant tax information from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Sometimes, CBSA officers also added to the files medical information with little obvious bearing on security screening — such as medications being taken by the traveller and by relatives.

“… CBSA collects and retains personal information that is not directly related to or demonstrably necessary for the objectives of the program,” said the 2017 report.

Therrien also warned that potentially erroneous personal data was being shared routinely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection — and with Canadian public safety partners, such as the RCMP — for possible retention in those agencies’ databases.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has criticized CBSA privacy safeguards at airports. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

“CBSA should revise its MOUs (Memoranda of Understanding) with domestic and international partners to ensure they contain specific provisions to limit retention and use of data that is obtained from CBSA for purposes of database checks,” Therrien recommended.

“The potential for abuse is enormous,” said Tim McSorley of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, criticizing the Scenario-Based Targeting system. “CBSA should immediately limit what it shares with U.S. officers.”

Robertson said the agency is still talking about privacy concerns with its international partners.

“Discussions with international partners related to the safeguarding and use of personal information are ongoing, including with the U.S. CPB (Customs and Border Protection); as such it would be inappropriate to provide further detail,” Robertson said in an email.

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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa

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Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa

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In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan

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As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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