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

“Isolation is normal for us,” says Saanich dad with cystic fibrosis

Gordon Head man says now’s the time to approve life-saving cystic fibrosis drug

Victoria business still busy as people turn to books while in self-isolation

Russell Books says certain genres have gained popularity during COVID-19

Farmers’ markets still open in Greater Victoria

The Moss Street and Esquimalt Farmers’ markets are scheduled to take place, with slight variations

Sooke School District promises learning opportunites for students by mid-April

‘No intent to replicate regular school day virtually’ SD62 says

VIDEO: Musician stays physically distant in courtyard show for Langford retirees

Bob Nelson found a way to continue to play for retirement community residents

Trudeau announces 75% wage subsidy for small businesses amid COVID-19

This is up from the previously announced 10 per cent wage subsidy

COVID-19: A message from the publisher

We will be making some changes to our print editions during these unprecedented times

Morning world update: Cases surge past 600,000; positive news in Germany

Spain suffers its deadliest day as Germany considers April 20 to possibly loosen restrictions

VIDEO: Penguins roam empty halls of Vancouver Aquarium

COVID-19 has forced the Vancouver Aquarium to close access to guests – leaving room for its residents

COVID-19: Qualicum Beach youngster gets car parade for his sixth birthday

Friends get creative after party cancelled due to ongoing pandemic

Kids get back to learning in B.C., online

Ministry of Education rolls out new tool for school

Nanaimo RCMP ask for help locating 17-year-old girl believed to be with 36-year-old man

Mary Cyprich, missing since Thurday, might be in company of Force Forsythe

67 more B.C. COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Vancouver region

Positive tests found in Surrey, Langley long-term care facilities

‘Now is not the time to bag that peak’: BCSAR manager discourages risky outdoor adventures

Call volumes are not going down, even as the COVID-19 pandemic persists

Most Read