Personal information of 69,000 public servants emailed to wrong government departments
A person typing on a laptop is seen. (File Photo)
TORONTO -- More than 69,000 public servants overpaid by government’s error-prone electronic pay system are now victims of a privacy breach after their personal information was emailed to the wrong recipients.
Employees’ full names, home addresses, the amounts they have been overpaid and their personal record identifier numbers were sent in an encrypted email earlier this month to 161 chief financial officers and heads of HR in 62 government departments.
“There is no evidence that this information was shared outside of the government,” said Public Services and Procurement Canada in a statement.
Since it was launched in 2016, the Phoenix payroll system has been riddled with mistakes. Tens of thousands of employees have been underpaid or overpaid, and many have struggled to pay their bills.
To help track the problem, Public Services and Procurement Canada lists overpayments and sends that information in bi-weekly reports to the appropriate departmental heads of human resources and chief financial officers.
But on Feb. 4, an encrypted email containing information of 69,087 public servants was sent to the wrong federal departments.
Government officials who received the encrypted email would have had access to the information in the report, a press secretary for the Office of the Minister of Public Services and Procurement confirmed. However, because the email was encrypted, the contents could not be viewed by unauthorized recipients outside the government because a login was required.
Public Services and Procurement Canada has notified the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and says it will notify affected employees in the coming days.
An internal investigation has been launched to assess what happened. Chief security officers in all 62 government departments that received the email were asked to delete it from their servers.
Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand said the government takes privacy concerns and the protection of information seriously.
“We will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again and fully reevaluate the way in which personal information is stored and used,” Anand said in an emailed statement.
Earlier this month, the federal government said that almost half of federal employees paid through the Phoenix system are still experiencing some form of pay issue. As of Jan. 22, the backlog of file problems was reduced to 197,000, marking the first time in four years that the backlog has dropped below 200,000.
Despite that progress, the problems are far from being solved. An estimated 98,000 civil servants may still owe the federal government money due to overpayments, according to a government report in January.