Last Friday, the agency that oversees the Canada Student Loans Program shocked post-secondary graduates by announcing it had lost social insurance numbers, full names, dates of birth, contact information and loan balances of 583,000 individuals who took federal loans between 2000 and 2006. The information was stored on an external hard drive deemed missing from a Gatineau, Que. office on Nov. 5.
Just five days after the bombshell announcement from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the agency that oversees Canada Student Loans, more than 4,300 Canadians had approached St. John’s Nfld.-based lawyer Bob Buckingham about his proposed class action lawsuit. Today, that class action suit was filed.
“New information comes into us by the minute from people on what is happening here, in terms of the cost and consequences to them,” says Buckingham, a privacy breach claims lawyer. He added that he hopes HRSDC will “negotiate a reasonable and realistic resolution.”
HRSDC representative Amélie Maisonneuve wrote in an email to Maclean’s On Campus Thursday morning that they are “committed to conducting a thorough and extensive review of this incident in order to prevent such an occurrence in the future.” Maisonneuve added that “extensive, in-depth and thorough search efforts for the missing hard drive have been undertaken and continue.”
HRSDC has already undertaken some action in an attempt to address the fallout. On Monday, they launched a toll-free number that concerned borrowers may call and check whether their personal information had been involved. The department has fielded more than 40,000 calls already.
But some students aren’t finding it very useful. Victoria Strange, a 25-year-old Bishop’s University graduate, called the hotline on Monday after hearing online about the privacy breach. “My future’s pretty much on the line if someone takes my identity,” she says. “There’s not much I can do about protecting my social insurance number, because I have no idea who might have it.”
Rochelle Latinsky, a 27-year-old York University graduate who lives in Toronto, made the call to HRSDC on Tuesday. She said she was told to expect a letter with further information from the department in the coming days. She says a letter doesn’t cut it: “They should be doing their best to try and reach out to people beyond a letter in the mail,” she said.
HRSDC confirmed they are mailing letters to affected individuals detailing next steps.
Latinsky has since made calls to her bank and a credit reporting agency, as suggested by HRSDC, to monitor her situation for any fraudulent activity. “The fact that I have to do all the chasing,” she says, “is really not cool.”
When asked whether they would join a class action lawsuit like Buckingham’s, both Latinsky and Strange said they would consider it. Strange says her trust in the government has been broken.