Parents warned: privacy rights violated in school data collection by UBC

January 29, 2019 – Burnaby – A national parents’ group is warning families to avoid allowing schools to put their children in UBC’s Big Brother style data collection projects.

Kids First Parent Association of Canada warns that in late January and February UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) uses schools to do mass data collection and data linkage in violation of parents’ and students’ rights to privacy and informed consent. The group believes that HELP is in violation of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s requirements for “meaningful consent” that went into effect January 1.

The Ministry of Education allows HELP to link the personal data of all BC students “from preconception” via the Early Development Instrument (EDI) survey in kindergarten and the Middle-years Development Instrument (MDI) survey in grades four and seven.

Instead of the standard procedure of obtaining written parental consent for student participation, HELP uses a controversial method called “passive consent” contrary to OPC guidelines. Teachers automatically enroll students in the process unless parents register their refusal in writing with HELP two weeks in advance.

Students’ parents and other household members data can be linked to the students’ data.

“Passive consent means no consent,” says Helen Ward, President of Kids First. Statistics Canada does not allow passive consent with surveys involving children.

Moreover, HELP does not fully disclose the virtually limitless extent of the data collection and data-linkage process by HELP and its partners Edudata Canada and Population Data BC, all located at UBC.

“This secretive, predatory process has no place in our democratic society. We call for data previously collected without meaningful consent to be destroyed,” says Ward.

Population Data BC is “one of the world’s largest collections” of linked, person-specific data available for sale to researchers according to its website Very few BC residents are aware that their government is allowing these organizations to gather, link, and sell their private information.

In the MDI, elementary students answer highly personal questions on laptop computers HELP provides, including: who lives in their home, what they eat, what leisure activities they do and where, their emotional ties and feelings.

The EDI is a questionnaire of over 100 items filled in by kindergarten teachers. It asks teachers to rate students’ emotional state such as “cries a lot” and “is shy”, as well as “concerns at home”, daycare, “religion classes”, academic and physical abilities. Substitutes are hired while teachers complete the survey.

Data from the EDI and MDI are linked by HELP and Population Data BC via postal codes, birthdates, and names to other private records including: census, medical, mental health, perinatal, birth, hospital, pharmaceutical, daycare, vital statistics, child care, Work Safe BC, school and post-secondary records. Linkage to additional data sources is on-going.

Sarah, mother of a child in the New Westminster School District, objects saying, “My child goes to class to learn, not to be used as an unpaid research subject. No one knows what this data will be used for, or by whom. I want nothing to do with HELP, so why must I register my refusal with them? Why are our schools complicit in this violation of our rights?”


May 24, 2018. Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada – web guidelines: OPC Meaningful Consent Guidelines

HELP info on passive consent

2018/2019. Offord Centre for Child Studies – EDI survey: (Download PDF here)

2018/2019. Human Early Learning Partnership – Grade 4 MDI survey: (Download PDF here)

2018/2019. Human Early Learning Partnership – Grade 7 MDI Survey: (Download PDF here)

2018/2019. Human Early Learning Partnership – Letter to kindergarten parents for EDI: (Download PDF here)

2018/2019. Human Early Learning Partnership -Letter to grade 4 and 7 parents for MDI: (Download PDF here)



EDUDATA CANADA (UBC) “Edudata holds BC Ministry of Education data from 1991 onwards, and helps researchers, educators, and policy makers to access, analyze, and make use of that information”.

Contact: Helen Ward

%d bloggers like this: