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

Addition of a refrigerator and freezers warms the hearts of food bank volunteers

Harvest House the recipient of much-need appliances after grant application acceptance

We need more treatment placements for addicts

Harm reduction is an essential, stop gap measure

AAPs the best way to prevent defeat

Project in complete error and should be paid for by the Feds, Province

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Five new handyDART buses serving Cowichan

Buses to replace older vehicles being removed from the fleet

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

Simon Cowell breaks his back falling from electric bike

Incident happened at his home in California

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Missing teen visiting Courtenay found safe

She had last been seen going for a walk on Aug. 6

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

Fitness non-profit challenges citizens to invent a game to be physically active

The campaign was launched after a study showed only 4.8 per cent of children and youths in Canada met required standards of the 24-hour movement guidelines

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

Most Read