Saskatchewan

Privacy concerns raised about Sask. online cannabis survey

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice is looking into privacy issues around its survey on cannabis after a University of Regina professor raised concerns that the survey is not as anonymous as claimed.

U of Regina professor concerned IP addresses of survey respondents collected

Marijuana is legal in some American states and is in the process of being legalized in Canada. But with cannabis still illegal under U.S. federal law, what will happen at the border when Canadians admit to smoking it? (The Associated Press)

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice is looking into privacy issues around its survey on cannabis after a University of Regina professor raised concerns that the survey is not as anonymous as claimed.

The province's cannabis survey asks a series of questions about the upcoming legalization of marijuana and how it should be handled in Saskatchewan.

U of R professor Marc Spooner, who also ran for the federal NDP in 2011, originally had concerns about the survey when he discovered it could be taken outside of the province.

"I got concerned that it really had no validity since it's not measuring what it's intended to measure," said Spooner.

He said that if non-Saskatchewan residents can take the survey, it shouldn't be used to inform public policy around cannabis in the province.

Marc Spooner has filed his concerns over the privacy of the cannabis survey with the Ministry of Justice's Access and Privacy branch. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

Data cleaning

"There will be some data cleaning that takes place to make sure that what's coming in is solid," said Drew Wilby, executive director of communications with the Ministry of Justice.

But Spooner said this "data cleaning" means that identifiable information about respondents — such as IP addresses — is collected through the online survey. He said this is a major breach of privacy.

"They have told us that it's an anonymous survey, which is not true if you're able to match a response to a certain computer," said Spooner.

Wilby said the ministry is confident that no one's personal information will be compromised by the survey, and government is committed to ensuring the survey is anonymous.

The ministry has said in an email that government employees who analyze the survey responses will not have access to IP address data, as they will be working separately from the technical specialists in charge of creating the survey and extracting data.

Drew Wilby, executive director of communications with the Ministry of Justice, is confident in the privacy of the cannabis survey. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

Crossing the border

Spooner also has concerns about the fact that the company the ministry used to create the survey, SurveyGizmo, is an American company with a Canadian affiliate. He said this could mean survey respondents' data could be crossing into the U.S. and accessible to U.S. Homeland Security and the U.S. National Security Agency.

"It's really unclear how data is housed when it's an American company, whether they fall under the Patriot Act," said Spooner.

This concerns Spooner as cannabis use is a federal offence in the U.S., and he worries it could affect those travelling south of the border.

"I'm also confident that the survey data is staying on Canadian soil," responded Wilby.

"The survey company we're using has their survey warehouses out in Montreal. This is not crossing into the United States."

Spooner has filed his concerns with the ministry's access and privacy branch. Wilby said the ministry is looking into his concerns.

The survey has had 33,000 respondents so far and closes on Oct. 6.

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