Doggy data sharing leads to third-party privacy breach, credit problems

A person’s credit rating was affected after a dog off-leash bylaw fine was issued the wrong person. The case resulted in a personal privacy breach report.

It is a shaggy dog tale of barking up the wrong tree.

A ticket for an expired tag on an off-leash dog accidentally breached personal data that then affected credit problems for a man with the same name as the dog’s owner, documents released under freedom of information laws show.

Port Coquitlam officials shared doggy data with Coquitlam after an unlicenced dog was found in Coquitlam in July 2015. A ticket was issued.

But it went to another person with the same name of the dog’s listed owner. Worse yet, the ticket “went to the wrong address and to someone who no longer lived there,” a Port Coquitlam privacy breach report said.

Unpaid, the ticket went to collections and affected the uninvolved person’s credit rating, said the report, which said the harms of the breach could  “hurt, humiliation, damage to reputation.”

The tale began when a Coquitlam animal control officer spotted a man with the dog in a park.

The man refused to identify himself. He said the dog was a friend’s. Using the tag number, the Coquitlam officer contacted Port Coquitlam and discovered the tag was expired.

The officer retrieved the owner information from Port Coquitlam but did not go to the listed address.

Records say had the officer done some sniffing around, the issuing of a ticket, subsequent conviction and the credit issue might not have happened. The ticket was cancelled and fetched back from collections when officials discovered they were after the wrong man.

B.C. Information and Privacy Association executive director Sara Neuert said the case highlights how human error can be a risk in any process.

“It is important for any public body to ensure that all employees handling any type of personal information be aware and trained in protecting that information,” Neuert said. 

“When errors are made there should be a review of the process to ensure the city continues to be transparent and accountable to the public,” she said.

The breach led Port Coquitlam officials to debate time spans for dog licence data purging. Discussions included talks about the average life spans of dog breeds.

One official suggested dogs licenced in 2007 are now dead.

City research found an average dog lifespan is 12 years.

“This implies that 50 per cent of all dogs will still be alive after 12 years,” the report said.

 “Purging records after nine years – or even when the dog owner reports the death of the dog – would mean deleting potentially important information from city records,” the report said.