Level of credit protection unclear in wake of lost personal data

In the wake of a class action lawsuit, the federal government now says it will provide a "credit flag" service for nearly 600,000 Canadians whose data was lost in November. But it is not the same level of credit protection it advised those affected to get, and pay for themselves.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) said the hard drive was lost in November from an office in Gatineau, Que. and the search for the hard drive continues. The people affected, who received letters earlier this month warning them about the data breach, had Canada Student Loans between 2000 and 2006.

The department originally told concerned individuals to get their own credit protection, which costs approximately $15 a month. This spurred a class action lawsuit by St. John's lawyer Bob Buckingham, the government back-pedaled and contracted the credit bureau, Equifax, to provide free credit and identity protection services for six years.

That means files will be monitored by Equifax for any odd activity after those affected provide consent, but there won't be annual or monthly credit checks.

Equifax spokesperson Tom Carroll says a credit flag forces the bank to look into who might be applying for credit in your name. Asked if it's the same as the $15 a month credit monitoring that HRSDC had told borrowers to buy, Carroll said no.

Repeated attempts to speak with Human Resources minister Diane Finley have been unsuccessful and again on Friday she avoided answering questions about the lost hard drive and her ministry's response while leaving a spending announcement in Gatineau.

Her only statement on the matter came by way of a press release.

"While there is no evidence that information has been fraudulently accessed or used, I want to reassure Canadians that we are serious about protecting their personal information," Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said in a statement.

"That is why we will provide potentially affected individuals with credit protection at no cost, which will flag their credit files and help detect any potential compromise of their personal information."

From Buckingham's perspective, picking up the tab for credit protection is a good first step but the class action would proceed.

"This is but a portion of one of the costs we are seeking to recuperate for claimants," he said in a press release Friday.

There are currently at least four lawsuits filed in relation to the data breach pushing the government to pay for credit protection safeguards and compensating those affected for stress and fear.

Canada's assistant privacy commissioner, Chantal Bernier, has said the loss of so much personal data is "unprecedented," adding that her office is investigating the incident.

"This is one of the biggest breaches we've ever seen," Bernier has told CBC News.

The 5,000 people affected by the loss of a USB key in November can also reach out to HRSDC for free credit monitoring, the ministry said.

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