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Proposed privacy changes in British Columbia

Image: wikipedia.org

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2011 (Bill 3) was introduced in the British Columbia legislature on October 4, 2011. The Bill aims to facilitate digitization, compiling, sharing and combining of personal data across government ministries. Individuals would be able to access government services with a secure digital identification card and personal ID number.

More specifically, the Bill aims to support open government by enshrining into law the policy direction recently taken on open data and information; allow the government to collect citizens’ information (with their consent) where it would result in improved service delivery; enable a provincial identity management system, which would pave the way for citizens to have secure online government identification; enable information sharing across government in specific circumstances where programs touch multiple ministries, while adding new authorities for the Information and Privacy Commissioner to protect personal privacy; and create rules, in consultation with the Information and Privacy Commissioner, on topics like data linking.

The article rightly points out the privacy concerns; it was important that the privacy commissioner was consulted when drafting the Bill.

The privacy commissioner recently released a statement regarding the proposed changes, ultimately supporting the bill and maintaining that it strikes a workable balance between government’s operational needs to share data for integrated service delivery with appropriate oversight by the commissioner.

Appreciating its important role given this technology, the commissioner stated:

The proposed mandatory requirements for privacy impact assessments and prior notice of integrated programs and data-linking initiatives are critical to ensure privacy risks are identified and properly addressed. Our intention would be to develop guidelines for public bodies on the types of information that my office would require in order to be able to review and comment on their privacy impact assessments.

But it is safe? There are critics that argue it is too great a privacy violation to allow the government to compile, access and share a person’s most sensitive information in exchange for supposed convenience. However, to quell these fears, individuals do have the option not to get the card.

Privacy concerns aside, surveys do reveal that there is demand for such a service and an interest in the technology. BC’s Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government, Margaret MacDiarmid, who introduced the Bill, said:

These amendments serve to modernize an act that came into force in 1992, when the majority of citizens had not even heard of the Internet. We are aligning the act with current-day technology and with the way British Columbians want to be served by government today.

What do you think? Is this a progressive proposal or a recipe for disaster?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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