Government loses personal information of half a million student loan borrowers


Diane Finley, whose federal department lost the personal information of 583,000 student loan borrowers Courtesy of Patrick Doyle

Federal government under fire after losing files on 583,000 Canadians who borrowed from 2000-2006.

Diane Finley, whose federal department lost the personal information of 583,000 student loan borrowers Courtesy of Patrick Doyle
Diane Finley, whose federal department lost the personal information of 583,000 student loan borrowers Courtesy of Patrick Doyle

Over half a million student loan borrowers may be at risk following the federal government’s loss of a hard drive containing their personal information.

Diane Finley, federal minister of human resources and skills development (HRSDC), released a statement earlier this month informing Canadians that a hard drive containing the personal information of 583,000 student loan borrowers was lost. Information of those who borrowed student loans between 2000 to 2006 were included on the drive.

While the lost files did not include any banking information, the drive did contain students’ names, dates of birth, social insurance numbers, addresses, and loan balances from recipients across the country.

Minster Finley conveyed regret for her department’s oversight .

“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,” she stated in a release published on the Government of Canada website.

The mishandling of information is not the sole issue to those affected. Some have criticized the HRSDC for waiting until January to inform those who may be at risk, despite the discovery being made on November 5, 2012.

25-year-old University of Alberta graduate Alix Kemp voiced concern over the delay in communication.

“It took them more than two months to issue that statement after discovering the hard drive was missing,” Kemp pointed out in an interview with The Link.

Kemp took out a loan in 2005, placing her within the time period of those potentially affected by the lost information. She says she is unhappywith the way the HRSDC has handled the situation.

“I’m not impressed. I appreciate that they put out a statement, but I don’t make a habit of reading press releases in case people lose my information,” she explained.

[pullquote]“It took them more than two months to issue that statement after discovering the hard drive was missing.” — Alix Kemp, student loan debtor[/pullquote]

She is not alone in her frustration. The CBC reported that a St. John’s-based lawyer filed a statement of claim last week on behalf of all Canadians affected by the incident.

Kemp has not ruled out legal action.

“If there were a case of identity theft because they’ve accidentally given someone my social insurance number and other personal information, then it’s something I’d have to consider,” she explained.

The federal privacy commission has launched an investigation of the HRSDC under the Privacy Act, which dictates the handling practices of federal departments and agencies dealing with personal information.

Finley says the department is making efforts to contact those whose information was lost.

“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,” she stated.

The HRSDC has set up a toll-free number for those who concerned are worried they might be among those whose information has been lost. Those who took out loans between 2000 and 2006 can phone 1-866-885-1866 to determine if their information was on the missing hard drive.[hr]

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