Archived — Remarks by Michael Jenkin, Federal Co-chair, Consumer Measures Committee, Before the House Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, Ottawa, Ontario

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May 10, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for providing the Consumer Measures Committee with the opportunity to discuss its efforts in regard to identity theft.

The Consumer Measures Committee, or CMC, is a forum of federal, provincial and territorial officials responsible for consumer affairs. I am the federal Co-chair of the CMC. There is a provincial Co-chair position as well, although that position is in the process of being filled. Every jurisdiction is represented on the CMC.

CMC was established under the 1995 Agreement on Internal Trade, in order to "facilitate the process for reconciliation of consumer-related measures and standards" and to provide a forum for discussion among the jurisdictions on issues related to such measures and standards.

Since its inception, CMC has been active in examining a variety of different issues that are of concern to Canadian consumers.

Depending upon the issue at hand, CMC has conducted in-depth policy research and analysis, developed consumer education initiatives, or agreed to harmonization of legislative measures. For some issues, we've done all three. All our efforts are carried out with a view to protecting consumers and informing them so that they can better protect themselves. Consultation with stakeholders and the public is an integral part of our work. I might add that CMC serves as a very useful informal network for officials to share information on new issues that are arising and on new initiatives that individual jurisdictions may be undertaking or may have heard about.

Identity theft is one of the issues on CMC's plate. It is a particularly appropriate issue for our forum, given that it is an issue that cuts across borders, and touches upon the responsibilities of a very diverse set of government authorities. At the same time, I should note that there are many facets of the issue that fall outside of the various CMC members' mandates, such as the criminal aspects of identity theft.

In 2003, CMC struck a working group of federal and provincial officials to examine options for improving the situation for consumers in regard to identity theft. That working group is co-chaired by a representative of the federal government, and an official from Ontario's Ministry of Government Services. The focus of the work so far has been two-pronged, based on the one hand on public information and education, and, on the other hand, examining policy options to improve the consumer protection landscape for Canadians.

I would like to deal with each of these in turn.

First of all, in regard to consumer information and education, CMC's efforts stem in large part from the concerns expressed by Ministers Responsible for Consumer Affairs at their meeting in January 2004, where Ministers (and here I am citing the communiqué from that meeting) "recognized the serious concern that identity theft poses for consumers, leaving victims with a poor credit rating, ruined reputation and money losses. The ministers agreed, as a first step, to harmonize information efforts to bring consumers the most reliable and complete information on how to reduce the risk of being victimized."

Since then, CMC has been very actively engaged in efforts to inform the public, both consumers and business, about how to prevent ID theft and what to do if it occurs.

First of all, CMC developed the Identity Theft Kit for Consumers, which can be found on the CMC's own website, at www.cmcweb.ca/idtheft. It can also be found on the Canadian Consumer Information Gateway, at ConsumerInformation.ca, which is a portal that provides consumers with access to information from the federal, provincial and territorial governments and from a variety of consumer non-governmental organizations.

The Kit includes information to help consumers reduce the risk of identity theft, assess whether they have become a victim, and advises them on what to do if they do fall victim. The Kit also includes an identity theft statement, which is essentially a set of forms that ID theft victims may use to help organize the information they need so that they can more easily deal with financial institutions, credit card issuers, the police and other officials in repairing the damage done.

The ID Theft Kit for Consumers was developed in a process of extensive consultation, among and within the relevant federal, provincial and territorial government departments, with businesses and financial institutions, and with consumer organizations.

As a companion piece to the Consumer Kit, a one-page Checklist was produced to summarize key information for consumers.

In addition, a number of CMC members expressed the view that it would be useful to develop a document that would be destined for businesses. The result was the Business Identity Theft Kit, released in 2004, which includes sections on how to reduce the risk of compromising consumers' information, what to do when a thief strikes and how to tell consumers about a breach.

The Business Kit, again, was developed by CMC in consultation with businesses and consumers. It too is available on www.cmcweb.ca and ConsumerInformation.ca.

I hasten to add that CMC takes advantage of opportunities to distribute its educational products when and where it can. We always participate in Fraud Prevention Month, for instance. This year, we sent copies of the Checklist to police officers throughout Canada that deal with fraud. We received a tremendous response back from many officers, who wanted more material.

Identity theft continues to be a priority consumer issue for us; a section on ID theft has been included in the latest CMC consumer awareness projects targeted to seniors and youth. In addition, ConsumerInformation.ca currently has Identity Theft on its front page feature "Focus On."

In some cases, individual governments have adapted some of the CMC informational products to suit their own needs.

So, that is an overview of some of CMC's efforts to let consumers know about identity theft.

In regard to policy research and analysis, as you may be aware, CMC carried out a consultation on identity theft in 2005. (That paper is available at www.cmcweb.ca/idtheft.) This was an effort that carried over into 2006, with follow-up discussions with some stakeholders. The consultation posed a number of questions in regard to possible measures to improve consumer protection. These included some matters related to how businesses, financial institutions, consumer reporting agencies and others handle, or should be required to handle, consumers' personal information in a way that would reduce the risk of identity theft, and how to help when consumers become victims. CMC reviewed and analysed the issues raised in the consultation and took the opportunity to discuss them all, based upon the responses received and upon the various jurisdictions' specific concerns, mandates and individual priorities.

Three major areas of focus for CMC discussion following the consultation were:

  • A requirement that consumer reporting agencies implement security alerts on credit files when consumers request them. The effect of such a measure would be to ensure that those organizations that use credit reports - lenders, landlords, retailers - will see the fraud alerts on the consumer's report and take reasonable steps to verify the identity of the person seeking the credit or service. Provinces saw this as an important issue, and we've already seen Ontario and Manitoba move forward with measures in this regard.

  • A requirement that consumer reporting agencies freeze consumer files at the request of consumers who have been victims of ID theft. While this was a concept that interested the jurisdictions, we heard a great deal of concern from business stakeholders about the potential effect such measures could have on consumers' access to credit when they need it. The technical feasibility of implementation of credit freezes was raised by the industries as a concern as well. CMC determined that it would not be appropriate to move forward with credit freezes at this time.

  • Mandatory notification of consumers in instances of security breaches within organizations. This is an issue that interested CMC members, but given the PIPEDA review, it was ultimately felt that CMC was not the appropriate forum for moving forward with recommendations for legislative change. Individual jurisdictions agreed to make any views they might have on the matter known to your Committee during the review. I understand that some did so, in support of seeing PIPEDA amended to address the issue.

With regard to some more technical issues touching on the consumer reporting industry, which includes credit reporting, it was felt that they would be better dealt with in the context of a separate consultation focussed exclusively on the laws governing that sector. Those issues include what information may be included on a consumer's file and for how long, as well as procedures for addressing consumer's concerns about the accuracy of the information on his or her file. That consultation is expected to be released soon.

For now, let me note that CMC continues to be engaged on this issue. As I noted, identity theft is a matter that cuts across borders, and engages the responsibility of many actors, in the public and the private sectors. Coordination among and within governments is a challenge, one that CMC recognizes but which we will continue to address.

On behalf of all members of the federal, provincial and territorial Consumer Measures Committee, I would like to thank you again for this opportunity to present to the Standing Committee. I would be glad to answer your questions.