Frequently asked questions—Security and privacy

1. How is confidentiality ensured when the census questionnaire is completed online?

Statistics Canada prints a secure access code (SAC) on letters and questionnaires that are mailed out to dwellings. Once respondents have obtained their SAC, they can use it to access the online questionnaire.

Statistics Canada takes the protection of confidential information provided online seriously. A secure login process and strong encryption are key elements in helping to prevent anyone from obtaining access to census information.

To protect the security of personal information on the Internet, Statistics Canada incorporated the following safeguards:

  • Strong encryption technologies ensure security of data passing between respondents' computers and the web server. Transport Layer Security (also known as TLS) enhances the privacy of the information passing between a respondent's browser and Statistics Canada's servers. This protocol provides a safe passage for transmitting and authenticating data by encrypting the information. Access to data cannot be compromised when TLS is in use.
  • Data submitted to the web servers are encrypted before being stored and remain encrypted until they are transferred to the high security internal network.
  • Census data are processed and stored on a high-security internal network.
  • Powerful firewalls, intrusion detection and stringent access control procedures limit access to back-end systems and databases. Census employees who have proper authorization and who have affirmed an oath of secrecy can access census data, but only from secure locations.
2. Does anyone see my information when my questionnaire is being submitted?

No. Information is transmitted from your computer to Statistics Canada using a secure encryption protocol.

3. How does Statistics Canada stop hackers or other unauthorized people from accessing census information?

Statistics Canada takes every precaution to protect your information. Transport Layer Security (also known as TLS) enhances the privacy of the information passing between your browser and our servers. By encrypting the information, this protocol provides a safe passage for data transmission and authentication.

Sophisticated security techniques, software, hardware and procedures are used to protect your information. Census data are processed and stored on a highly restricted internal network and cannot be accessed by anyone who has not taken the oath of secrecy. Data submitted to our web servers are encrypted before being stored, and they remain encrypted until they are transferred to the high-security internal network.

4. Does the online recruitment application and census questionnaire have built-in security features to protect information in the event of a system failure?

Yes. In the event of a system failure, respondents' data are not accessible to outside people or systems. Internally, safeguards are in place to ensure that there is no unauthorized access to data.

5. How can I be sure the census website is legitimate?

A legitimate Government of Canada website can be identified in several ways. Look for these features:

  • The site URL in the browser address bar should end with ".gc.ca". This suffix is a privately held second-level domain in the ".ca" top-level domain. It is used by the Government of Canada and operated by Government Telecommunications and Informatics Services.
  • The security certificate is provided by Entrust and clearly identifies Statistics Canada as the owner of the site.
6. The census is an invasion of my privacy. Why do I have to answer personal questions on the census questionnaire?

All residents of Canada are legally required to complete the census questionnaire, according to the Statistics Act.

The information you provide ensures that the 2021 Census of Population accurately reflects Canada's changing society. Your responses ensure that your community has the information it needs to plan services that support employment, schools, public transportation and hospitals.

In Canada, great care is taken to ensure that information collected from a census is clearly in the public interest, cannot be obtained effectively from other sources, and can be collected efficiently to meet information requirements.

In developing census questions, Statistics Canada pays full attention to the protection outlined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Statistics Act. Judicial rulings on this issue have confirmed that the census does not contravene the Charter.

All census questions serve important data needs and are approved by the federal cabinet. Your answers are collected under the authority of the Statistics Act and are kept strictly confidential. Only Statistics Canada employees with a need to know and whose job requires them to work with the questionnaires see completed questionnaires—and they all are subject to the confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act. All Statistics Canada employees take an oath of secrecy, which is in effect for life—even after employment has ended.

7. How does Statistics Canada ensure that census data are kept confidential?

Statistics Canada places the highest priority on maintaining the confidentiality and security of completed questionnaires. Stringent measures and procedures are followed to ensure that confidentiality is maintained at all times.

  • All Statistics Canada employees take an oath of secrecy, which is in effect for life—even after employment has ended. According to the Statistics Act, employees are subject to fines and/or imprisonment if they reveal identifiable information derived from the census.
  • Private contractors do not have access to confidential data.
  • Only Statistics Canada employees with a need to know have access to personal and confidential information. All these employees go through a justification and approval process. These employees are able to collect, process and analyze completed questionnaires. They may access only the data they are working on.
  • When questionnaires are completed online, the information is protected through a number of measures, including a secure login process and strong bidirectional encryption between your browser and Statistics Canada's servers.
  • Access to Statistics Canada buildings is controlled by a combination of physical measures and access procedures.
  • Census data are processed and stored on a highly restricted internal network and cannot be accessed by anyone who has not taken the oath of secrecy.

Any possible breach of the confidentiality of census questionnaires is a serious matter that is investigated immediately and thoroughly and is subject to the full force of the Statistics Act.

8. Who sees confidential census data (e.g., completed questionnaires)?

Only Statistics Canada employees with a need to know, whose job requires them to work with the questionnaires, see individual completed questionnaires.

Statistics Canada requires that census workers have an enhanced reliability clearance. Census employees authorize Statistics Canada to conduct security checks, which include criminal record name checks completed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

All Statistics Canada employees must take an oath of secrecy never to reveal to unauthorized persons any information collected in confidence by Statistics Canada, as required under the Statistics Act. This oath remains in effect for life—even after employment has ended. All Statistics Canada employees are also subject to fines and/or imprisonment should they reveal identifiable information derived from the census. Any possible breach of the confidentiality of census questionnaires is a serious matter that would be investigated immediately and thoroughly, and would be subject to the full force of the Statistics Act.

Confidential data is never released by Statistics Canada without the explicit consent of the respondents. Individual census records are not transferred to other departments or shared with central government databases.

Statistics Canada relies on private contractors to provide equipment, printing and other services. However, these contractors do not have access to confidential data.

9. Does Statistics Canada sell individual data?

No. Statistics Canada will never release names, addresses or email addresses, alone or in combination with any other information from the census questionnaire. Names, addresses and email addresses will never be given or sold to any individual or organization, nor will they ever be put on any mailing lists. Statistics Canada is bound by law to protect the identity of individuals in all published data.

The Statistics Act prohibits the use of census data for non-statistical purposes.

10. How does Statistics Canada ensure the confidentiality of the information it publishes?

Statistics Canada is bound by law to protect the identity of individuals in any data it publishes. Publications and electronic data releases are screened so that anonymity is assured. Names, addresses and telephone numbers are not part of the census database used for dissemination, and private contractors do not have access to confidential data.

Published census data go through a variety of automated and manual processes to determine whether the data need to be suppressed. This is done primarily to ensure that the identity and characteristics of respondents are not disclosed (referred to as confidentiality).

Confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data. Consequently, the agency does not publish data from geographic areas with a population below a certain threshold.

11. The public has access to historical records. Isn't this a breach of confidentiality?

In December 2017, an enactment amended the Statistics Act to no longer require the consent of respondents to transfer census information to Library and Archives Canada after 92 years.

This is consistent with Statistics Canada's commitment to open and accessible data. Researchers, historians and genealogists require this information to conduct research and help us better understand our past and, therefore, better build our future.

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