Principles of Necessity and Proportionality

In this digital era, available data sources are expanding while Canadians’ information needs continue to grow and change. To address these mounting demands and the equally important need to keep their data safe, Statistics Canada is working in consultation with statistical and privacy experts from around the world to develop a new methodology framework based on the principles of necessity and proportionality.

Statistics Canada collects data to produce official statistics that accurately measure our society, our economy, and our environment. With more than 300 active surveys on virtually all aspects of Canadian life, some statistical programs, such as the Census of Population and the Labour Force Survey, are deemed necessary for the well-being of our country. These surveys support essential information needs, such as: providing data for the indexation of old age pensions, helping businesses remain competitive locally and internationally, and informing the creation and funding of public transit, hospitals and schools. This is the principle of necessity.

Once necessity has been established, agency methodologists develop data collection strategies for each statistical program which take into account ethical considerations such as privacy, fairness and transparency. The principle of proportionality is where the experts at Statistics Canada determine how to collect the data which are needed, and no more than is needed. They also take into consideration the sensitivity of the data and ensure that no other, less invasive approach exists to achieve the same goal.

While Statistics Canada has followed these two principles since its creation more than 100 years ago, the agency has modernized its approach by expanding on these principles to develop a scientific framework. This framework explicitly assesses proportionality and data sensitivity, and ensures statistical values, such as privacy and confidentiality, are respected.

Necessity and Proportionality Framework: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Necessity and Proportionality Framework?

This approach was developed to ensure that decisions related to the production of information are ethically sound. The framework provides both a justification and a guide for designing strategies to gather sensitive data using surveys, administrative sources obtained from the public or private sector, or any other method. When acquiring data, the justification documents are evaluated in light of this framework.

Which statistical program uses the Necessity and Proportionality Framework?

The framework is now in use across the agency for all statistical programs to better meet the information needs of Canadians. The framework lays out guiding principles that one must take into consideration to safeguard the Agency's scientific and ethical integrity each and every time we acquire data.

When was the framework adopted?

The Necessity and Proportionality Framework was officially adopted by Statistics Canada in October 2019. The framework is an evolving approach that will be updated as new types of data are considered.

How was it developed?

The framework was developed in consultation with experts from businesses and academia from around the world, as well as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

Is the framework in accordance with the Statistics Act and the Privacy Act?

The Necessity and Proportionality Framework is fully in accordance with the Statistics Act and the Privacy Act. Furthermore, it is in line with privacy protection principles and draws from what is known as the four-part test (composed of necessity, effectiveness, proportionality and alternatives).

How is it used? At which stage?

It is used by statistical programs, before they acquire new data, as a guideline for their justification documents. It is also used internally in order to assess those justification documents and make recommendations if need be.