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U.S. law could open millions of Canadian Visa records

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Due to the outsourcing of their Visa Credit Card operations, CIBC has put many Canadians in a potential position where their spending records could be obtained by a foreign country (United States) where the privacy and access to records laws are more lax than Canada’s

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U.S. law could open millions of Canadian Visa records

U.S. law could open millions of Canadian Visa records


A small sheet of paper slipped in with the bills of millions of Canadian Visa cardholders has sparked an investigation by Canada’s Privacy Commissioner and calls for the federal government to stand up for the privacy rights of its citizens.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Visa customers were sent an amendment to their cardholder agreement this month warning their financial information could be disclosed in accordance with U.S. laws.

NDP MP Brian Masse criticized the Canadian government yesterday for not challenging controversial American legislation, such as the U.S. Patriot Act, which was passed in the wake of 9/11. Canada’s complacency, he said, could now lead to privacy violations.

“Information can now be passed on without your knowledge, without even the CIBC knowing it and nothing has been done about this,” Masse said in an interview yesterday.

In recent years both CIBC and RBC Financial have outsourced their credit card operations to a Georgia-based company called Total System Services Inc., which means that Canadian cardholder information now falls under U.S. legislation.

Spokespersons with Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal said all their operations are in Canada so American legislation does not affect their customers. At TD Financial Group, only people holding the U.S. Dollar Advantage Visa are affected.

“We, along with the CBA (Canadian Bankers Association) are assessing the implications of it all on existing privacy laws for our Canadian clients,” RBC Financial Group spokesperson Beja Rodeck said yesterday.

But CIBC spokesperson Susan McDougall said yesterday the notice sent to cardholders did not indicate any changes in the way information is handled.

“Nothing in the Patriot Act or any other post-9/11 legislation has altered CIBC’s relationship with its service provider or the types of information it processes,” she said.

“CIBC decided to update the privacy provisions in its cardholder agreement, in order to provide more detailed disclosure about our collection, use and disclosure of personal information. There is no new legislation behind the amendments.”

Masse interprets the notice differently and says Canadians are now affected by Section 215 of the U.S. Patriot Act, which was enacted a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and greatly expands the powers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A lawsuit launched by the American Civil Liberties Union, currently before the U.S. District Court in Michigan, strives to have that section of the act ruled unconstitutional.

“To obtain a Section 215 order, the FBI need only assert that the records or personal belongings are `sought for’ an ongoing foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, or international terrorism investigation,” the lawsuit says.

“The FBI is not required to show probable cause — or any reason — to believe that the target of the order is a criminal suspect or foreign agent.”

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