Statistics Canada’s offices at Tunny’s Pasture in Ottawa are shown on Friday, March 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Statistics Canada expects move to the digital cloud will prompt some rumbling

Statistics Canada sees several benefits including affordable access to the latest technologies

Statistics Canada is planning to move its information holdings to the digital cloud — a shift the national number-crunching agency acknowledges will prompt questions about the protection of sensitive data.

The initiative is part of the federal government’s “cloud-first strategy” to meet the increasing demand for online services and provide an alternative to its own, increasingly creaky computers.

Privately run cloud companies provide customers, such as federal departments, with virtual computer services — from email systems to vast storage capacity — using software, servers and other hardware hosted on the company’s premises.

Statistics Canada sees several benefits including affordable access to the latest technologies, additional processing power and storage, and more timely provision of data to the public and researchers.

But the statistics agency also realizes some rumbling could emerge from the cloud.

“The use of cloud technology will raise questions about data security and Statistics Canada’s ability to protect sensitive data,” say internal agency notes disclosed through the Access to Information Act. “Furthermore, Canadians will want to know what steps are being taken to ensure their information continues to be safe.

“The use of cloud technology may also raise questions about data sovereignty and the possible access to and use of data under the laws of another country.”

The federal government is mindful that many countries, including Canada, have laws allowing them to subpoena or obtain a warrant for information from private organizations to support legal investigations.

Ottawa says the primary risk to data sovereignty is the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Washington’s ability to compel an organization subject to American law to turn over data under its control, regardless of the data’s location and without notifying Canada.

In addition, there are long-standing information-sharing agreements and a legal assistance process between security and law-enforcement agencies in Canada and the U.S.

The Canadian government is obligated to protect personal data and highly sensitive information related to national security, cabinet discussions, military affairs and legal matters.

As a result, only data information designated up to and including a category called Protected B may be placed in the cloud. Protected B information, if compromised, could cause serious harm to an individual, organization or government.

In addition, all Protected B information — as well as the more sensitive Protected C and classified electronic data — must be stored in a government-approved computing facility located in Canada or within the premises of a department abroad, such as a diplomatic mission.

Data-scrambling encryption will also be used to shield sensitive material from prying eyes.

None of that provides sufficient comfort to Wayne Smith, a former chief statistician of Canada who resigned in 2016 over concerns about Statistics Canada’s independence. Smith had reservations about the move of agency data to Shared Services Canada facilities.

In the same vein, shifting statistical data to the cloud creates “a heightened level of risk that isn’t necessary” given the possibility of data hacks and breaches, Smith said.

“A better arrangement would be to have Statistics Canada operating its own data centres and keeping them offline.”

The statistics agency is in the planning stages of the project, meaning it is currently storing only ”non-sensitive, unclassified information” in the cloud, said spokesman Peter Frayne.

“Statistics Canada will only migrate protected information once our systems have been deemed secure for cloud services appropriate for sensitive information, as per Government of Canada procedures and processes,” he said in a written response to questions.

The agency intends to adopt a “hybrid, multi-cloud strategy” that will see applications and data housed by a mix of government data centres and cloud providers, he added.

Lisa Carroll, a senior executive with Microsoft Canada, one of the first global cloud providers to receive federal certification, stresses the company’s track record on keeping data secure.

Microsoft says it spends over $1 billion a year on cybersecurity and has more than 3,500 full-time security professionals working with artificial-intelligence tools to analyze more than 6.5 trillion global signals each day.

“The value of cloud is innovation,” Carroll said. “It’s about leveraging the technologies of the future.”

READ MORE: Canadian economy added 35,200 jobs in December, unemployment rate falls

READ MORE: Statistics Canada says annual pace of inflation climbs to 2.2%

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

B.C. COVID-19 contact restrictions working, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

’Not out of the woods yet’ as next two weeks are critical

UPDATED: Some states of local emergency suspended by ministerial order

Suspension applies to regional districts but not First Nations

A letter from Bella Coola doctors on COVID-19: ‘All our lives depend on your actions now’

“None of us are invincible; we can all get it and spread it without even knowing.”

COVID-19: Bella Coola RCMP close detachment front door access

The public is being asked to call 250 799 5363 for assistance

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

Sewers stitch masks to free up supplies for front-line health-care workers

“We have little old ladies sewing up a storm,” said Joan Davis

Experts weigh in on best handling of groceries during COVID-19 pandemic

Study suggests the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic

COVID-19 world update: Enforceable quarantine in NYC?; France orders 1 billion masks

Spain warns EU’s future at stake; New York governor calls Trump’s idea ‘federal declaration of war

‘Community is amazing’: Williams Lake woman organizes drive-by birthdays

With self-isolation the norm due to COVID-19 children are missing out

Earth Hour 2020 kicks off online Saturday night

Action moves online due to COVID-19

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

B.C. veterinarians want to smooth the fur of COVID-19-worried pet owners

Vets expect to continue giving your fur buddies the help they need while social distancing

B.C. VIEWS: Small businesses need our help

Just as integral in neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Surrey as they are in Prince George or Kelowna

Most Read