International Background Checks & Privacy: Sometimes the Knife Cuts Both Ways

A Canadian school bus driver who refused to consent to a background check conducted by a US-based firm has won a change in policy from her employer, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation story.

First Student Canada had previously run background checks through Canadian law enforcement but opted this year to procure background checks through a US firm – presumably the same firm used by their parent company, Ohio-based First Student, Inc. However, Stephanie Sydiaha refused to provide the necessary consent for the background check, citing concerns that US privacy laws are more lax than those in Canada.


Sydiaha complained to the Canadian Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office but was told that they were only able to assist public-sector employees. She apparently decided then to take her complaint to the Canadian media – CBC ran a story about her complaint on Tuesday. Now, two days later, First Student has relented and agreed to use a Canadian firm.

“I think it’s a good move,” Sydiaha said. “I guess my preference would still be that it be done by a police agency rather than another third party company, but certainly I’m glad that the information isn’t going to be available to American authorities.”

There are all kinds of goofy assumptions here, not the least of which is that the “American authorities” would somehow gain access, or even be interested in gaining access to background checks run on bus drivers in Saskatoon. However, the concern about personal information being sent outside of the country is a legitimate one. In fact, over 120 US-based concerned consumer reporting agencies have come together to stand against the off-shoring of the personal information of US citizens.

If Ms. Sydiaha thinks the US’ privacy laws are lax (a debatable point), she should try to seek redress when her identity information has been sent to India or China.

On an aside, Google Ms. Sydiaha’s name and you’ll see why it is no surprise that she’s the employee who bowed up to her employer on this matter and perhaps why they backed down so quickly -  she’s a seasoned anti-nuclear power activist involved in local Saskatoon politics. Picking your battles usually involves sizing up the opposition. (As for the “American authorities”, my guess is that there’s already a folder with her name on it somewhere in Langley, Virginia.)

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