Privacy watchdogs flag new crime

Privacy officials at all three levels of government have banded together in the fight against identity theft in the name of Fraud Prevention Month.

Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart , and her privacy colleagues agreed at a recent meeting that more action must be taken against identity fraud by law enforcement agencies, governments and all organizations.

Ann Cavoukian , the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, says that technology needs to be changed in order to combat the problem of fraud and identity theft.

“We need fundamental change in the way the Internet works and that of the existing identity infrastructure. In my view it’s no longer sustainable,” says Cavoukian.

Cavoukian notes that this was the premise – that the existing infrastructure of the Internet is no longer sustainable – for her recent paper , “Seven Laws of Identity: The Case for Privacy-Embedded Laws of Identity in the Digital Age.”

“The level of fraudulent activity online has grown exponentially and it’s threatening to cripple e-commerce,” says Cavoukian. “So we think there has to be a multi-faceted approach; there has to be a different way of ensuring identity online.”

She adds that this would significantly minimize the phishing and pharming that is rampant.

“Right now there is very little you can do about spam. We don’t have anti-spam legislation, and there are no technological protections across the board in terms of minimizing unwanted spam.”

In keeping with public awareness, the province of Alberta will be conducting forums and presentations on fraud to be kicked off next week, says Wayne Wood, a spokesperson for Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Frank Work.

“We find that people are a little surprised when they learn what kind of information a company might be holding on them,” says Wood. “A lot of people aren’t aware that a retail operation doesn’t have any need to ask you for your Social Insurance Number, but if they do, oftentimes people just turn it over.”

Irene Hamilton, the Ombudsman for Manitoba, echoes the need for the public to take more responsibility for their personal information.

“As identity theft is becoming more prevalent and we’re hearing about cases that are happening nationally, I hope people are reading those stories and that their awareness is heightened,” says Hamilton. “There are going to be implications for consumers regardless of what province they live in.”

Wood adds that public awareness has been raised as a direct result of the data breach case involving Winners and HomeSense.

“All of a sudden people really started paying attention to what was going on – but it was a hard lesson to learn.”

Cavoukian notes that the issue of fraud prevention is not a month-only event , but should always be top of everyone’s mind.

“We did our first paper on identity theft last year, because we wanted to have a backdrop to alert the public of all the risks associated with identity theft and especially to alert business to what they could do to easily prevent it or minimize it.

“For us, this is ongoing – its fraud prevention year. Everyone should be concerned with this issue.”

Quick facts:

– international non-profit group Spamhaus lists Canada as number eight in the top 10 worst countries for originating spam.
– Canada is the only G-8 country without anti-spam legislation.
– recent data breaches (i.e. Winners and HomeSense) have prompted the federal Privacy Commissioner of Canada to call for amendments to the private-sector privacy law, PIPEDA, to make it mandatory for organizations to notify people of data breaches involving their personal information.

Tips for consumers

Tips for businesses

Related content:

ChoicePoint to pay 15 million US for data breach

Federal exec touts workplace privacy

12 days of Christmas identity protection

Internet identity faces crisis

Ontario privacy chief props user ID system

Privacy experts push for breach law

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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