Earlier this month, the federal government confirmed that it plans to eliminate the red and white plastic social insurance number (SIN) cards that nearly half of us carry around in our wallets. According to a spokesperson for Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley, effective March 2014 the government will simply issue the SIN in a letter, without the wallet-sized card.
Elimination of SIN cards may be viewed as an inconvenience by some people (particularly if they haven’t memorized their number). In the long run, however, it could help protect privacy.
A person’s 9-digit SIN is required by employers in order to process payroll, and remit income and other employment-related taxes and withholdings. But, as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPCC) has stated, the SIN “opens the door to an individual’s personal information” and “can be used to steal someone’s identity”.
While there is very little need to carry SIN cards in our wallets or on our person, a 2007 public opinion survey conducted for the OPCC by EKOS Research Associates Inc. found that 46% of us tend to do just that, raising the risk that the card will be lost or stolen. In turn, this raises the risk of identity theft, particularly given that SIN cards lack any of the scrutiny features we have become accustomed to seeing on, for example, drivers’ licenses, health cards and banking cards.
And while we’re on the subject of SIN, employers should be alive to the fact that, although they need an employee’s SIN for payroll, tax and withholding purposes, collecting a job applicant’s SIN at the pre-hiring stage could raise a human rights issue. A SIN can provide access to information which the Ontario Human Rights Code generally prohibits an employer from relying on during the hiring process. More specifically, a SIN can reveal information about an applicant’s date of arrival in Canada and residency status. For this reason, in its publication Human Rights At Work, the Ontario Human Rights Commission cautions against asking a job applicant for his or her SIN until after a conditional offer of employment has been made.