The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) admitted that it tracked about 33 million of mobile phones during the lockdown to keep a check on the movement of people. With the help of location data, the agency aimed to measure the impact of public lockdown that allowed the Agency to “understand possible links between movement of populations within Canada and spread of COVID-19,” the spokesperson said.
“Due to the urgency of the pandemic, (PHAC) collected and used mobility data, such as cell-tower location data, throughout the COVID-19 response,” a spokesperson told National Post. The Agency aims to keep a track of the public movement for the next five years. The initiative addresses other public health issues, such as “, other infectious diseases, chronic diseases prevention and mental health,” added the spokesperson.
As per the National Post report, PHAC entered into a contract with TELUS to obtain information and data related to the movement of people. However, the agency lost track since the contract expired in October, the spokesperson informed. TELUS is a Canadian telecommunications company that provides wireless, data, IP, voice, television, healthcare, agriculture, and various other services on a 5G network to the 99% of the country’s 38 million residents.
Mobility data “helps to advance public health objectives,” the PHAC spokesperson said. The findings have been regularly shared with provinces and territories via the special advisory committee to “inform public health messaging, planning and policy development,” the spokesperson further informed.
The act invited a lot of criticism since the agency was involved in act that breached the privacy of their citizens. Privacy advocates denounced the act and said that public health monitoring jeopardized the user privacy.
“I think that the Canadian public will find out about many other such unauthorized surveillance initiatives before the pandemic is over — and afterwards,” says David Lyon, the author of Pandemic Surveillance and former director of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University. The author has demanded more details “regarding exactly what was done, what was achieved and whether or not it truly served the interests of Canadian citizens.”
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner informed that it is “following up with PHAC to obtain more information about the proposed initiative” and did not provide detail any further.
Presently, Canada is preparing itself to combat the new wave of COVID-19 caused due to the Omicron variant. A top medical official hinted that the hospitals could soon be flooded with patients.