Canada: Health agency admits to secretly tracking 33 million phones during lockdown

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Canada: Health agency admits to secretly tracking 33 million phones during lockdown
Canada: Health agency admits to secretly tracking 33 million phones during lockdown. Credit: Photo by sebastiaan stam on Unsplash

Canada: Health agency admits to secretly tracking 33 million phones during lockdown.

THE public Health Agency of Canada admits to secretly tracking 33 million phones during the COVID-19 lockdown, according to reports. Canada has a population of 38 million people.

Earlier this month, the Public Health Agency disclosed it monitored lockdowns by confidentially tracking 33 million mobile devices to “understand the public’s responsiveness during lockdown measures.”

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Citing Blacklock’s Reporter, the National Post reported: “Due to the urgency of the pandemic, (PHAC) collected and used mobility data, such as cell-tower location data, throughout the COVID-19 response,” a spokesperson told the newspaper.

The PHAC used the Telus program – Data For Good – to provide “de-identified and aggregated data” of movement trends in Canada. The contract was awarded to the TDFG program in March and expired in October. The location data is no longer accessed by the health agency, according to the spokesperson.

However, the health agency apparently does intend to continue tracking population movement for at least the next five years to monitor behaviour concerning “other infectious diseases, chronic disease prevention and mental health,” the spokesperson added.


Contractors with access to “cell-tower/operator location data in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and for other public health applications” are apparently being sought by the health agency.

A notice posted by the agency at the beginning of the month asks for “de-identified cell-tower based location data from across Canada” beginning January 2019 until the end of the contract period on May 31, 2023, with the possibility of three one-year extensions.

The contractor must provide anonymised data to PHAC and ensure its users have the ability to easily opt out of mobility data-sharing programs, the agency says.


PHAC’s privacy management division conducted an assessment and “determined that since no personal information is being acquired through this contract, there are no concerns under the Privacy Act,” the spokesperson said.

David Lyon, the former director of the Surveillance Studies Centre and Queen’s University in Ontario, told the newspaper: “I think that the Canadian public will find out about many other such unauthorised surveillance initiatives before the pandemic is over—and afterwards.”

Lyon’s continued: “The pandemic has created opportunities for a massive surveillance surge on many levels—not only for public health, but also for monitoring those working, shopping and learning from home.”

“Evidence is coming in from many sources, from countries around the world, that what was seen as a huge surveillance surge — post 9/11 — is now completely upstaged by pandemic surveillance,” said the author of Pandemic Surveillance.


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