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web posted May 22, 2000

Canadian government uses database to track citizens

There's a massive government database that tracks the lives of ordinary Canadians - a Big Brother that wasn't supposed to exist, the federal privacy commissioner says.

Bruce Phillips sounded an alarm bell in his annual report to Parliament on May 16, warning Canadians that the Human Resources Department database is "tantamount to a citizen profile" and vulnerable to misuse.

The "extraordinarily detailed database" holds a dossier on almost every person in Canada with as many as 2,000 pieces of information about each person's education, marital status, ethnic origin, mobility, disabilities, income tax, employment and social assistance history.

"Successive privacy commissioners have assured Canadians that there was no single federal government file or profile about them," Phillips said in his report. "We were wrong - or not right enough for comfort."

Phillips is recommending a fixed shelf-life for data, penalties for misuse, strict control on collection and legislative changes to set out the research mandate of the database.

The information on 33.7 million people, dead and alive, is taken from income tax returns, child tax benefits, immigration and welfare files, the National Training Program, Canadian Job Strategy, employment services, employment insurance, job records and the social insurance master file.

The only government department which regularly gathers such comprehensive information - Statistics Canada - operates under strict laws with penalties for those who misuse information. But there are no similar laws regulating the use of the human resources database and that "poses significant risks to our privacy," Phillips said.

The database is "always open to misuse or abuse unless there are legislated, legal restraints on its use," he said.

While the Privacy Act allows collecting personal information for research, this database raises concerns because it is so comprehensive.

If the information was divided up, there would be "lower risk of indiscriminate collection, unrelated uses and improper disclosures," Phillips said in the report.

The Human Resources Department, which has been attacked for months in the Commons for mismanaging grants, says it's not breaking the law and it relies on staff professionalism to prevent misuse of the database, created in 1985.

"All the information is secure, it's encrypted," said Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart.
The data is used to ensure government programs are working, she said.

Pippa Lawson of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre is worried that personal information could be sold.

"History has shown governments can go off the rails," she said. "There's a huge market out there for personal information, for marketing purposes in particular. We've already seen municipal and provincial governments selling databases."

Earlier this year, reports indicated Ontario's transportation ministry sold personal information to private companies.

A research database could also "be retrieved in unforeseen ways - by disabilities or ethnic origin, for example - to the detriment of individual rights, said Phillips, who noted the information is never purged.

"Without an end, the temptation is to subject everyone to unrelenting information surveillance.

"This database needs limits," Phillips said.

As they have in the past.

Giuliani drops out of New York Senate race to focus on cancer treatment

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ended weeks of speculation about his political future May 19 by announcing he will not run for the U.S. Senate against first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At a news conference at City Hall, Giuliani said he would focus his efforts on fighting his recently diagnosed prostate cancer.

"This is not the right time for me to run for office," said Giuliani, ending his Senate bid before it ever officially began. After receiving a rousing round of applause, he told those at the hastily assembled City Hall news conference that he has not yet decided on a treatment option for his cancer.

"I've decided that what I should do is to put my health first and that I should devote the focus and attention that I should to be able to figure out the best treatment," he said.

The New York mayor first raised the possibility that he may abandon his Senate plans during an April 27 announcement that he had early-stage prostate cancer. Giuliani said the day of his quitting that choosing a treatment option has proved much more difficult than expected, and that he was confident dropping his Senate bid was the right choice.

"I believe that this is the right decision and I think that somehow, somewhere, some way, this is all for the best," Giuliani said.

He downplayed speculation that his decision may have been influenced by his recent announcement that he would leave his wife of 16 years amid reports romantically linking him with other women.

The mayor had promised to make his decision at least a week before the GOP state convention on May 30 in Buffalo, allowing Republicans the opportunity to find a replacement candidate.

Giuliani said he called a number a top Republicans in New York and Albany, most notably state GOP Chairman Bill Powers and Gov. George Pataki. Powers immediately began coordinating efforts to find a replacement for Giuliani and appears to be backing Rep. Rick Lazio (R-New York).

Lazio, who represents part of Long Island, issued a statement after Giuliani's news conference saying he would seek the office. He is a moderate Republican who has at least $3 million in campaign funds already on hand.

"I called Rick Lazio and told him that if he's the candidate of the party he can count on my help on support," said Giuliani, who acknowledged receiving growing pressure from state Republicans, as well from anxious reporters, to reach a decision.

Mrs. Clinton, now a former rival, spoke with Giuliani shortly after the news conference.

"I called him at the conclusion of his announcement to wish him well, to tell him that I knew this was a difficult decision and I certainly hope and pray, as I know all New Yorkers do, that he will have a full and speedy recovery," the first lady said.

"I'm surprised, I thought he was going to go ... but I certainly understand it," said Rep. Peter King, who also indicated Friday that he was interested in seeking the GOP Senate nomination. He faces an uphill battle against Lazio, regarded by many as the "favorite son" candidate of the state GOP leadership.

The Clinton campaign already appears to be gearing up for a Senate contest against Lazio, known as an energetic and tough candidate. CNN's Frank Sesno reported Friday that state Democrats plan to label Lazio as a "classic Gingrich lieutenant."

King, considered a GOP party maverick, represents a Long Island district adjacent to Lazio's.

"I would have a more conservative voting record than Congressman Lazio," said King, an ardent opponent of abortion rights. "I have far more foreign policy experience than Congressman Lazio."

Although he's the early GOP favorite, Lazio has slightly more than $3 million in campaign funds on hand, far less than the $12 million the first lady has amassed in her campaign coffers.

Although Giuliani is not permitted by law to transfer his campaign's impressive $19 million war chest to Lazio or any other GOP Senate candidate, he can hand the money over to the state Republican party.

Gun proponents march in Charlotte

A week after the Million Mom March anti-gun demonstration in Washington, gun advocates attending the National Rifle Association's annual meeting marched May 20 through the streets of downtown Charlotte to show solidarity for their cause.

About 400 marchers, many in green T-shirts bearing the words "Guns Save Lives" and waving signs with slogans such as "What part of 'will not infringe' do you not understand?" followed a bagpiper about six blocks to the center where the NRA convention was being held.

"I'm here to protect the Second Amendment for my generation," said Kelly Saint Sing, 16, of Charlotte, a target shooter who was accompanied by her father, Ed. "It's something worth protecting. If we don't do something, it could be taken away."

Former NRA vice president Neal Knox told marchers they were defending the legacy of the nation's founding fathers. "The founding fathers are looking down on us with great pride, because we are defending what they gave us when they created this nation," he said.

The march preceded a scheduled address by NRA President Charlton Heston, who is expected to be re-elected to a third term when the convention concludes May 22.

"This will be the most important meetings in our history," Heston said in a taped message played the day before the march. "We are about to have the most important election in this organization's history. "Our gun rights are truly in peril. When the sun comes up on Nov. 8, who wins the election will determine our freedoms into the next century."

Thousands of people on milled around the hundreds of exhibits by gun-makers, hunter associations and collectors in the Charlotte Convention Center.

Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gunmaker, got a mixed reception, with some people shunning its exhibit because it agreed to put childproof locks on its pistols.

"I think it's important for the people of this country to stand by their Second Amendment rights," said Diane Peroutka, attending the convention with her three children. She said she would avoid the Smith & Wesson exhibit, where more than 100 handguns were displayed.

Others said that while they disagreed with Smith & Wesson's action, they still would buy their guns.

Taiwan's new president takes office; seeks to calm China

Chen Shui-bian took the oath of office as Taiwan's new president on May 20 -- and refused to bend to Beijing's claim that the island is an inseparable part of China.

But he offered an olive branch aimed at calming the mounting crisis in relations between Taiwan and its giant communist neighbor.

Chen said during his inaugural speech that as long as China refrained from using military means to take control of Taiwan, he would not push for independence from Beijing.

"As long as communist China has no intention to use force, I assure within my term of office I will not declare independence," he said.

But Chen refused to accept Beijing's so-called "one China principle." Such agreement would mean recognizing that the communist government is the ruler of that one China.

In a statement carried by China's official Xinhua News Agency, Beijing accused Chen of insincerity and expressed disappointment that he did not explicitly say that Taiwan is part of "one China."

Becoming part of an impoverished China ruled by an authoritarian regime has never appealed to the Taiwanese, who have built a democracy with a thriving economy on an island about the size of the Netherlands.

But several times during his speech, Chen referred to the shared ancestry of Taiwanese and Chinese.

"The people across the Taiwan Strait share the same ancestral, cultural and historical background," said Chen, whose ancestors came from China.

Chen's inauguration ended more than 50 years of Nationalist Party rule on Taiwan and marks the first time an opposition leader has taken power democratically in a Chinese state. His inaugural address will be scrutinized around the region and in communist-ruled China, which still considers Taiwan a renegade province.

Chen already had indicated he doesn't intend to provoke Beijing, but Taiwan's military was on heightened alert for the inauguration.

It's far from clear whether anything he said will blunt Beijing's determination to resolve Taiwan question on its own terms. State-controlled Chinese media is warning Taiwan's new leader not to stray far from their wishes in his inaugural address.

But few expect China to turn its threats into action just yet.

Chinese policy-makers privately admit that unless they want a costly war, they have no other option than to give Chen more time to adopt a definition of Taiwan's status that Beijing finds acceptable. And while there is talk of a deadline among the leadership in Beijing, the talk is not of months, but years.

"Most Chinese leaders are not naive. Their hopes for his speech aren't too high," said Chu Shulong, of the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations. "But the mainstream government attitude is that Chen's position has been quite moderate both during and after his election.

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