04/15/2013 04:15 EDT | Updated 06/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Bank fraud, computer security top survey of Canadians' privacy concerns

OTTAWA - Canadians feel the grip on their privacy slipping away in a world where web sites, mobile devices and even eyes in the sky can track their every move, a new poll suggests.

A growing unease over how well personal information is safeguarded is among the findings of a newly released survey commissioned by the federal privacy watchdog.

The poll suggests two-thirds of Canadians are concerned about the protection of their privacy — with a quarter of respondents saying they are "extremely concerned."

"There is a growing sense amongst Canadians that their ability to protect their personal information is diminishing," the report says.

Many Canadians feel a growing sense of helplessness when it comes to protecting their privacy. Seven of every 10 people think their personal information has less protection today than it did a decade ago, the report suggests.

More than half of those surveyed felt they did not know enough about new technologies to determine if their privacy is at risk.

The survey also suggests most Canadians are concerned about bank fraud, credit-card fraud, computer security and identity theft.

Despite these concerns, the poll found most Canadians remain largely unaware of their privacy rights. Some 63 per cent rated their knowledge of privacy laws either low or in the neutral range. That said, Canadians' knowledge of their privacy rights is higher now than in previous years, the survey suggests.

The findings come on the heels of a massive privacy breach by the federal government.

Employees at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada lost an external hard drive and USB key in November that contained personal information belonging to more than half a million Canadians.

Most of the people affected participated in the Canada Student Loan program between 2000 and 2007, though information belonging to participants in other programs — as well as government staff — was also compromised.

Both the RCMP and privacy commissioner are now investigating and at least three class-action lawsuits have been launched.

Indeed, the poll conducted for the privacy commissioner suggests Canadians aren't overly confident that the federal government is serious about protecting people's privacy.

"Using a seven-point scale, 64 per cent offered middling scores on the scale (i.e. scores of three-to-five) to government," the report says.

Only 21 per cent felt the federal government takes its privacy related responsibilities "very seriously," it adds.

Those surveyed also expressed concern over police and intelligence agencies forcing telecommunications companies to turn over customers' information without a warrant.

The poll also suggests most Canadians are not troubled by the use of drones for search-and-rescue operations, border patrols and police investigations. They were far less comfortable with unmanned aerial vehicles being used to monitor public events, protests or to keep an eye on public spaces.

The privacy commissioner hired Phoenix Strategic Perspectives last fall to canvass Canadians' views on their privacy.

The telephone survey of 1,513 Canadians was conducted between Oct. 25 and Nov. 12, 2012, and is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.