Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
My name is Elise Boisjoly, and I am the assistant deputy minister of the integrity services branch at Employment and Social Development Canada. I am joined by Anik Dupont, who is responsible for the social insurance number program.
Thank you for the opportunity to join you today. My remarks will focus on the social insurance number, or SIN, program. Specifically, I will clarify what the social insurance number is and provide information on its issuance and use; inform the committee on privacy protection related to the SIN; and provide information on our approach in the case of data breach.
What is the SIN? The SIN is a file identifier used by the Government of Canada to coordinate the administration of federal benefits and services and the revenue system. The SIN is required for every person working in insurable or pensionable employment in Canada and to file income tax returns.
It is issued prior to your first job, when you first arrive in Canada or even at birth. During the last fiscal year, over 1.6 million SINs were issued.
The SIN is used, among other things, to deliver over $120 billion in benefits and collect over $300 billion in taxes. It facilitates information sharing to enable the provision of benefits and services to Canadians throughout their life such as child care benefits, student loans, employment insurance, pensions and even death benefits. As such, the SIN is assigned to an individual for life.
The SIN is not a national identifier and cannot be used to obtain identification. In fact, it is not even used by all programs and services within the federal government; only a certain number use it. The SIN alone is never sufficient to access a government program or benefit or to obtain credit or services in the private sector. Additional information is always required.
While data breaches are becoming increasingly commonplace, the Government of Canada follows strong and established procedures to protect the personal information of individuals. My colleague mentioned the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which is being administered by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. They provide the legal framework for the collection, retention, use, disclosure and disposition of personal information in the administration of programs by government institutions and the private sector, respectively.
As my colleague mentioned, on November 1, 2018, a new amendment to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act came into force, which requires organizations that experience a data breach and that have reason to believe there's a real risk of significant harm to notify the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the affected individuals and associated organizations as soon as it's feasible. Violating this provision may result in a fine of up to $100,000 per offence.
At Employment and Social Development Canada, we have internal monitoring strategies, privacy policies, directives and information tools for privacy management, as well as a departmental code of conduct and mandatory training for employees on protecting personal information. We believe that any security breach affecting social insurance numbers is very serious and, in fact, we ourselves are not immune to such a situation. For example, in 2012, the personal information of Canada student loan borrowers was potentially compromised. The breach was a catalyst for further improvements to information management practices within the department.
Preventing social insurance number fraud starts with education and awareness. This is why our website and communication materials include information that can help Canadians better understand the steps they should take to protect their social insurance numbers. Canadians can visit the department websites, call us or visit us at one of our Service Canada centres to learn how best to protect themselves. It is important to note that protecting the information of Canadians is a shared responsibility among the government, the private sector and individuals. We strongly discourage Canadians from giving out their social insurance numbers unless they are sure that doing so is legally required or necessary. Canadians should also actively monitor their financial information, including by contacting Canada's credit bureau.
A loss of a social insurance number does not necessarily mean that a fraud has occurred or will occur.
However, should Canadians notice any fraudulent activity related to their social insurance number, they must act quickly to minimize the potential impact by reporting any incidents to the police, contacting the Privacy Commissioner and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, and informing Service Canada. In cases where there is evidence of the social insurance number being used for fraudulent purposes, Service Canada works closely with those affected.
Despite ever larger data breaches, the number of Canadians who have had their social insurance number replaced by Service Canada due to fraud has remained consistent at approximately 60 per year since 2014.
That being said, we understand that many Canadians have signed a petition asking Service Canada to issue new social insurance numbers for those impacted by this data breach. The main reason we do not automatically issue a new social insurance number in these circumstances is simple: getting a new social insurance number will not protect individuals from fraud. The former social insurance number continues to exist and is linked to the individual. If a fraudster uses someone else's former social insurance number and their identity is not fully verified, credit lenders may still ask the victim of fraud to pay the debts.
In addition, it would be the individual's responsibility to provide their new social insurance number to each of their financial institutions, creditors, pension providers, employers—current and past—and any other organizations. Failing to properly do so could put individuals at risk of not receiving benefits or leave the door open to subsequent fraud or identity theft.
It would also mean doubling the monitoring. Individuals would still need to monitor their accounts and credit reports for both social insurance numbers on a regular and ongoing basis. Having multiple social insurance numbers increases the risk of potential fraud.
Active monitoring through credit bureaus as well as regular reviewing of banking and credit card statements remain the best protection against fraud.
In closing, protecting the integrity of the social insurance number is critical to us, and I can assure you that we will continue to take all necessary action to do so, including reading this committee's report and considering advice from this committee and others on how to best improve.
Thank you for your time. I'd be happy to answer your questions.