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Statistics data safe, official says, after agency head quits

(Dave Bedard photo)

Ottawa | Reuters — Statistics Canada data is safely stored and outsiders have no chance of accessing it, a senior official said on Monday after the chief statistician quit in protest over concerns about the agency’s independence.

Canada’s Liberal government, which took power last November, is trying to resolve a number of major technological problems it had inherited from the previous Conservative administration. These include the centralization of data services under Shared Services Canada that prompted Wayne Smith to resign last Friday as head of Statistics Canada.

Smith, the country’s second top statistician to quit in recent years, had complained for months that Shared Services Canada held an effective veto over many decisions of StatsCan, which produces monthly reports on market-moving topics such as jobs and international trade and regular reports on Canadian farm production.

Shared Services Canada president Ron Parker told a media briefing that his department’s enterprise data centers provide adequate data security.

“SSC employees cannot access the statistically sensitive data… and have no visibility into the contents of the data as it is encrypted and access to the data center is controlled by Statistics Canada,” he added.

Data center employees are obliged to have security clearances, must take an oath to obey the Statistics Canada Act, and can be prosecuted if found to have leaked information, Parker said.

The maximum penalty for improperly divulging StatsCan information is a $5,000 fine or a five-year jail term.

Asked twice whether Smith had been wrong, Parker did not respond directly, saying, “The services we provide are very solid and state of the art and much improved overall.”

Reuters was not immediately able to reach Smith on Monday for comment.

David Ljunggren is a Reuters political correspondent in Ottawa.

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