By Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – An international credit reporting agency is pushing the federal government to give it access to a monthly list of new social insurance numbers despite years of rejections over privacy concerns.
TransUnion made the request anew earlier this year, shortly after Patty Hajdu became labour minister, to access the list that contains the range of social insurance numbers issued each month in various regions of the country.
Currently, only government officials are allowed access to the list to help root out fraudsters in programs including social safety net ones overseen by Employment and Social Development Canada.
TransUnion argues that the information would help it better detect identity theft because social insurance numbers that have either not been issued, or those not issued at birth, are often used to fraudulently apply for credit cards and loans.
“It is important to note that the data consumer reporting agencies are asking to receive does not identify any consumer but rather, provides simply SIN ranges issued by month and region. This is the same data we are asking ESDC to send,” David M. Blumberg, senior director of public relations for the American-based company wrote in an email.
The monthly list, known as the “Last SIN of the Month Report,” gives a breakdown by region of the latest regular and temporary social insurance numbers, including those given to new workers or newborns.
For years, the government regularly provided the list to banks and other financial institutions, including credit agencies like TransUnion, who used it to detect fraud and identity theft.
But officials passed along the information without any formal agreements, and even the department responsible says it doesn’t know how long the practice took place because it was done informally.
Amid privacy and security concerns, the previous Conservative government used a 2012 budget bill to tighten the rules about what personal information ESDC could share with non-government entities. The rules came into effect in December 2013, and ESDC stopped sharing the social insurance numbers list with TransUnion and others because it was no longer able to disclose the report outside the department.
A department spokeswoman said the list could help someone commit fraud should it into the wrong hands.
“While institutions would be required to protect this information, if improperly handled, the public release of the report could jeopardize the integrity of the social insurance number program,” Julia Sullivan said.
TransUnion began putting in requests in 2013 to reverse the government’s decree. First came a meeting in the fall of 2014 between the company and then Conservative minister Jason Kenney, but questions were raised about the legality of sharing the information contained in the monthly report.
TransUnion came back in May 2015 with a follow-up request to then minister Pierre Poilievre.
The latest follow-up was in January, when a Canadian lawyer for the company called ESDC officials for an update. Officials warned Hajdu the company would likely come knocking on her door next.
The information was all outlined in a briefing note prepared earlier this year for Hajdu, but much of the document, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, is blacked out because it contains pages of legal advice that cannot be publicly released.