Lawsuits over data loss


A series of class-action lawsuits has been filed against Human Resources and Skills Development Canada over the agency’s loss of the personal data of over half a million people.

Compensation and punitive damages are being sought over the loss of a portable hard drive that stored the names, addresses, SIN, and loan information of 583,000 people who took out student loans between 2000 and 2006. The government said no banking or medical information was on the hard drive.

The drive was lost in November, but the loss was not announced until January 11. Five days later, the Merchant Law Group, Strossberg Sutts, Strosberg LLP, Branch Macmaster LLP, Falconer Charney LLP, and Newfoundland lawyer Bob Buckingham all began class-action proceedings.

A notice on the McMaster website states that compensation will be sought for “the breach of their privacy, damages for identity theft, and/or damages to their credit reputation, damages for the costs incurred to
prevent identity theft, damages for the time spent changing your personal information such as your Social Insurance Number, damages for emotional distress/inconvenience,
and/or compensation. Punitive damages will also be claimed
because the government failed to disclose the breach of privacy
for two months.”

The suit filed seeks $600 million in compensation. That’s approximately $1,000 per person affected by the loss.

The websites of each firm have a page on which those affected can join the lawsuit.
Though the cases have been filed, they require class-action status to be certified by a judge
before they can proceed. The McMaster site suggests concerned parties check back every three to six months for updates.

Buckingham has disputed the figure of potential victims of the data loss. “We believe the
number of people affected is,
at minimum, two million, as the student loan applications also contained information about the applicants’ parents, siblings, and spouses, where applicable,” Buckingham said in a press statement.

A spokeswoman for Diane Finley, Canada’s Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, contested the statement. “No other individuals’ names or information were included
[on the drive], such as spouses or co-signers,” spokeswoman Alyson Queen wrote in an email.

A toll-free number is available to help people determine whether they were among those affected by the data loss. Free credit reports can be acquired from a credit bureau. Those concerned
can also have their SIN flagged in the event of unusual activity.