Requirements that B.C. taxpayers provide social insurance numbers, email addresses and phone numbers while filing speculation and vacancy tax declarations are being examined by the province’s information and privacy commissioner.
“We are aware of the concerns and our office is currently considering matters related to the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information for the purpose of administrating the speculation tax,” office spokeswoman Jane Zatylny said.
But the Ministry of Finance said in a statement, “We are confident the tax is fully compliant with our privacy legislation and taxpayers’ data is being handled safely and securely.”
Finance Minister Carole James has said the tax targets foreign and domestic speculators owning residences in B.C. but not paying tax in the province; aims to turn empty homes into housing; and seeks to raise revenue to support affordable housing in communities where the tax applies.
Earlier this year, property owners received letters with a declaration identification number allowing them to go online and fill out a declaration. The form also asked for birthdates and for information on property – such as whether is it a principal residence or rented out.
Government information said most residents wouldn’t have to pay, but registration was a requirement.
Zatylny said the commissioner’s office wouldn’t be releasing any further information or making a decision on the requirements until after the March 31 submission deadline
“Residents should know that our review does not remove their obligation to comply with the B.C. government’s timelines for submitting their declarations,” she said.
The government’s speculation tax website suggested property owners needing to update property information such as mailing address complete a BC Assessment form. That document does not request any of the data required for the speculation tax declaration.
Similarly, the Land Title and Survey Authority does not request email addresses for changing information such as a new mailing address, a name change or removing someone from title.
The ministry statement said it worked closely with privacy experts in the Ministry of Citizens’ Services and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to assess the privacy implications of the tax and its administration as it collected data.
It said provision of an email address was not mandatory but would assist owners in amending declarations online if they had made a mistake and also to receive confirmation their declaration had been received.
“Phone numbers are used by ministry staff to follow up with owners quickly when they find a declaration error or when owners request further information,” the ministry said.
B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Association executive director, Sara Neuert, said the only concerns expressed to the group were about collection of social insurance numbers, noting provision of email addresses was optional.
Neuert said the Ministry of Finance said the tax legislation allows social insurance number collection and is one piece of information collected through eTaxBC, which the government says is a secure, online system.
“The personal information that is collected under the Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act is protected in a manner consistent with the BC Government’s Information Security Policy, Federal Security Standards, and provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” the ministry told the association.
“The collection of SIN as part of the tax is critical to cracking down on speculation,” the ministry said in its statement.