Statistics Canada to adopt “hybrid” cloud strategy

By on 19/01/2020
Statistics Canada is to adopt a hybrid strategy that will see data stored in government data centres as well as by cloud providers. (Photo courtesy: Leonardo Rizzi/flickr).

Statistics Canada is to migrate its data to the cloud. The agency believes working with private sector cloud specialists will bring numerous benefits, such as affordable access to new technologies, additional processing power, additional storage and more timely provision of data to researchers and the public. However, data will also be stored in government data centres as part of a hybrid strategy revealed last week.  

The agency’s plan is part of the government’s ‘cloud first’ strategy to implement measures to meet the demand of online services.

The agency acknowledges that its plans to move data to the cloud may raise privacy concerns, but says it is putting measures in place to protect that data.

“The use of cloud technology will raise questions about data security and Statistics Canada’s ability to protect sensitive data,” an internal agency document seen by The Canadian Press says. “Canadians will want to know what steps are being taken to ensure their information continues to be safe.”

In accordance with Canada’s robust data security protocols, the agency is implementing protections and restrictions, including data-scrambling encryption and keeping the most sensitive data in government-approved facilities within Canada or within the premises of a department abroad, such as a diplomatic mission.  

These measures align with the Canadian government’s obligation to protect personal data and highly sensitive information related to national security, Cabinet discussions, military affairs and legal matters.

According to the agency’s spokesperson, Peter Frayne, the project is in the planning stages and is currently storing only “non-sensitive, unclassified information” in the cloud.

“Statistics Canada will only migrate protected information once our systems have been deemed secure for cloud services appropriate for sensitive information, as per Government of Canada procedures and processes,” he told The Canadian Press.

The agency intends to adopt a “hybrid, multi-cloud strategy” that will see data stored in government data centres as well as by cloud providers, he added.

Serving Canadians

Anil Arora, the country’s chief statistician, told the audience at an Empire Club of Canada event that the agency’s “sole purpose is to serve Canadians” and that its relationship with the data ecosystem “is one of interdependence and symbiosis”.

He said the agency is “increasing transparency”, and that partnering with the private sector and investing in its infrastructure are a key to its modernisation efforts.

Asked by Empire Club board member, Mike Van Soelen, about responsible use of data, Arora said: “[Statistics Canada] just celebrated its 100th birthday so we’ve been in this data business for a while and we’re arguably the best statistical agency in the world so we know how to take sensitive data and turn it into good quality statistics, insights and information. That’s what we do.

“And now, as you see an explosion of ‘alternate’ sources of data, those commitments don’t change. In fact, how we go about doing it – the data, the science, the statistics, the anonymisation and so on – becomes even more important. We can share some of that best practice with businesses and with other organisations that are realising the true value of data.” 

Reservations and congratulations

Despite the benefits of migration of data to the cloud and the measures Statistics Canada is putting in place to protect that data, Canada’s former chief statistician Wayne Smith is wary of the plans. 

Smith resigned from his role of chief statistician in 2016 over concerns about Statistics Canada’s independence and the move of agency data to Shared Services Canada facilities.

Shifting statistical data to the cloud creates “a heightened level of risk that isn’t necessary” given the possibility of data hacks and breaches, Smith said. “A better arrangement would be to have Statistics Canada operating its own data centres and keeping them offline”.

Referring to Smith’s comments, Alex Benay, Canada’s former chief information officer, said it was “dangerous to provide outdated advice on technology” and congratulated Statistics Canada “for leading the way in becoming a modern public sector institution”.

In November, Canada launched its Data Governance Standardization Collaborative. Arora told Global Government Forum that the group, made up of experts from government, industry and civil society, would help organisations and citizens to benefit from data, whilst managing the associated security and privacy risks. It aims to deliver a “comprehensive and consensus-based standardisation roadmap and a concrete set of recommendations” on data governance by the end of 2020.

In a full interview with Global Government Forum last year, Arora spoke of the need to “use the data that’s locked in our systems to bring greater value to Canadians” and the importance of countries collaborating to “learn from each other and keep up with the pace at which our economies and societies are evolving”.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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