Opposition to GIS database repeal grows ahead of budget

Image copyright Office of the Auditor General of Canada Image caption The Government of Canada forecasts the cost of implementing GIS will reach the half-billion Canadian dollar mark by 2020/21

Debate over how the federal government will replace a database of more than one million people, businesses and buildings has intensified ahead of the federal budget.

The number of Canadians affected by the implementation of General Integrated System for Integrated Reporting, or GIS, has risen to one million.

It is believed it will cost the government C$750m by 2020/21.

The cabinet last year signed off on plans to decommission the GIS database, which was launched more than a decade ago.

It focuses on policies, services and bills related to individuals, families, the environment, finances, travel, the arts, forestry, infrastructure, ports, water, and communications.

The database was being phased out by a “phase-in approach” over 10 years. But the repeal of the measure will require the full scale and process of planning and implementation to take place in the time frame previously mentioned.

More than 1,500 regulations and rules are based on the GIS database, which was included in the 2013 budget and formally launched in 2014.

Tax information on 81,000 taxpayers, accounting for 40% of taxpayers with income of C$200,000 (US$136,150) or more, will be removed.

At the time, the National Post newspaper reported Liberal government officials claiming the change would save taxpayers C$126m in 2025.

The Liberal Party – the party that brought in the budget in 2015 – made abolishing the database the flagship plan of the year’s budget.

Vancouver’s Wall Street Journal reports that various opposition parties want the Liberals to delay the cuts.

The Green Party – the junior partner in the current coalition government – is understood to be planning to table a motion calling for the budget to be postponed.

It has also called for an urgent debate in the House of Commons on the matter.

‘Delay’

The IT specialists at Amnesty International who spearheaded a petition asking the Conservatives to delay the dismantling of the database are not against the idea of replacing it, they say.

Image copyright Amnesty International Image caption The BBC wants to know why no other group in Canada uses this database instead of GIS

Amnesty said it had studied other ‘third party’ databases – used by prominent organisations in the United States, the United Kingdom and China – and found “no evidence” of data being misused, misuse of individual privacy rights or “delegation of legislative and executive powers”.

“The government should explore whether these databases are a viable alternative to GIS, particularly since we don’t believe these databases risk privacy risks or misuse of data,” the group’s executive director for Canada Alex Neve told the BBC.

“Our major concern has been that every individual under the purview of GIS will face a ‘two-tier’ system of privacy with regard to government officials examining how government contracts and other policies are assessed,” Mr Neve added.

“We believe GIS should remain where it belongs, at the disposal of the government only.”

Michael Geist, Canada research professor at the University of Ottawa, says he wants MPs to investigate the issue further.

The only real alternative to the GIS database is a fully fledged civic technologies initiative, he says.

“This government has been late to come to grips with the complete transformational transformation of the way Canada manages its data. This is a big opportunity to lead the world into a more responsible and open-minded approach to the data that will underpin the future,” Dr Geist tells the BBC.

When the government signed off on the GIS program, it included a five-year phase-in period, during which time there was no mechanism to reverse the decision.

For economists, the concern was that Government of Canada planners should have had adequate time to prepare their roll-out of the program.

“The decision should never have been taken and I am convinced the Cabinet must be held to account for misjudging the resources needed to roll out an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in smart data,” Dr Geist says.

“The priority needs to be properly trained government workers who can inform the Canadian public on what the government is actually doing with data.”

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