BC Police PRIME database and Police record checks

Privacy concerns are snowballing about the collection, use and disclosure of personal information through police databases.

On Wednesday, BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham released a report detailing her recent investigation into employment-related criminal record checks by the BC Government. In her report, Denham notes that approximately 85% of the government’s 33,500 employees must submit to a criminal record check. Given the inherently privacy-invasive nature of such checks, she writes, it’s essential that they are carried out only where necessary, and only where it suits the job in question.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the BC Government, these commitments are not being upheld. Denham states that the province’s largest employer collects “more information than is necessary” from prospective and current employees, “unnecessarily conducts multiple checks on some employees,” and regularly contravenes section 26 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in carrying out criminal record checks.

Denham’s report recommends a number of policy changes to correct these imbalances, but also notes, to the Government’s credit, that it doesn’t make use of the far more invasive Police Information check. Much broader in scope than a typical criminal record check, police information checks include a search of BC PRIME (Police Records Information Management Environment), the central database for the province’s local police forces. PRIME logs extensive information on citizen interactions with police, including vaguely defined “adverse” contact.

But where the Government seems to be holding off on these checks, “seldom justifiable under privacy legislation in British Columbia,” private sector employers are digging deeper and deeper into BC PRIME.

A recent report in the Province outlines a number of troubling instances in which improper employer access to PRIME via employee background checks has seriously compromised the well-being of British Columbians. Jose-Luis Guinea, a Peruvian immigrant to Canada, even goes so far as to say his career was ruined by employers accessing PRIME and denying him work on the basis of one “adverse” interaction with police following an argument with paramedics in Richmond.

Critics and watchdogs say that adverse police contact ultimately boils down to subjective officer interpretation, and so should not be used as a basis for flagging citizens as potentially criminal and denying them employment. Commissioner Denham agrees: “I think that is a problem for the citizens of BC and I don’t believe PRIME should be used in an employment setting.”

There is danger for law enforcement as well. If citizens are concerned about how they will be reported on in a police database, they will be less likely to seek out police for assistance or information to avoid the possibility of an “adverse” contact report. This will be doubly true if American authorities are given access to BC PRIME and similar databases.

This new evidence makes the Commissioner’s forthcoming investigation into the use of police databases, announced last year, all the more urgent.

FIPA will continue to track this topic and report on Denham’s findings when they are released.

BC Children’s and Youth Rep slams Integrated Case Management in statement

BC’s Representative for Children and Youth has released a scathing statement expressing deep concerns over the effectiveness, security, and reliability of the BC Government’s pricey Integrated Case Management System.

Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond doesn’t mince words in her statement, stating “I strongly believe that ICM is not adequate to provide safety to vulnerable children, youth and families in B.C.” Citing a litany of concerns over the system, such as whether sensitive personal information is being properly captured, training difficulties, and “overwhelming” technical issues, Turpel-Lafond calls the system a “burden” on those who work to protect the safety of BC’s children, youth, and families.

Since 2009, FIPA has been raising concerns over the Integrated Case Management system in particular, and government data sharing plans in general. Our 2010 report, Culture of Care or Culture of Surveillance? flagged the system as a potential privacy quagmire. The government’s 2011 amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act were designed to make the ICM’s data grab legally possible.

Turpel-Lafond’s strong words confirm these concerns and should serve as an urgent wake up call for the BC Government: “without dramatic and rapid improvements and modifications, I am not confident that child safety can be assured through the use of ICM.”

The many confident assurances of the system’s reliability from a variety of ministers are now worthless. As the Representative points out, the government did not have a Plan B in case the ICM failed. They refused to listen to the numerous voices expressing concern about various aspects of the ICM, and now they have put the public’s money, safety and personal information at severe risk.

FIPA thanks Representative Turpel-Lafond for her strong action in defense of children and all British Columbians, and we look forward to hearing from Information and Privacy Commissioner Denham about the specific privacy problems with the system.

For quick updates, follow us on Twitter at @BCFIPA.

The full text of the Representative’s statement can be downloaded here.

You can view media coverage of the statement here.

Background:
Minister Cadieux on safety of ICM

FIPA op ed on ICM and amendments to FIPPA

New identity theft support centre launches

FIPA congratulates the Canadian Identity Theft Support Centre (CITSC) on the official launch of their victim support services!

The Canadian Identity Theft Support Centre is a non-profit organization focused on assisting victims and potential victims of identity crimes. Experts work directly with victims and advise them on the step-by-step practices that will assist them in regaining control of their good names.

This is excellent news for all those who’ve struggled with identity theft, and a timely reminder to the rest of us to remain vigilant about out own privacy and information security.

FIPA was instrumental in the creation of CITSC and fully supports their initiatives in providing education and support services free of charge to Canadians.

Be sure to visit their website and check out their important services.

More voices raised in concern over BC Government’s ‘cradle-to-grave profile of each citizen’

BC’s Minister of Social Development Stakes Government’s
Reputation on Safety and Privacy of new Integrated Case
Management System

Controversy is growing over the BC government’s new $182 million
Integrated Case Management (ICM) system now being rolled out
across BC.

The ICM system will create a database of unprecedented scope and
detail about the lives of people using government services, and allow
the government to share that information almost at will.

FIPA has been sounding alarm bells about the ICM system since we
published a report in 2010 called Culture of Care…or Culture of
Surveillance?

Now the Victoria Times-Colonist has joined us in sounding the alarm. In a lead editorial earlier this month, the newspaper stated:

“The government’s argument for building this system recognizes no
limiting principle. It is basically open-ended. We’re being told that
bureaucrats need a cradle-to-grave profile of each citizen to combat
various knowledge gaps. But where does that end?

“Add personal medical records, and no doubt it would be easier to track contagious diseases like hepatitis. But it would also disclose who had an abortion. Identify victims of domestic violence, and crime prevention might become more effective. But how would the victims feel about being exposed?

“Sooner or later, on this expansive theory of oversight, personal privacy is extinguished.”

Minister Defends the System

BC’s Minister of Social Development, the Hon. Stephanie Cadieux,
disagreed in a published response stating, “ICM provides a better way of organizing and protecting information with enhanced security and privacy features. Staff can only access information that they need to do their job, and alerts and flags placed on files will help to ensure appropriate sharing of information when necessary that can help to avoid tragedies.”

Read more here.

Cadieux also stated that “The B.C. privacy commissioner has been involved at every stage of the development of ICM and has stated in writing there is no objection to the project.”

Information and Privacy Commissioner Distances Herself from the ICM Program

But Commissioner Elizabeth Denham objected to the Minister’s statement in a letter posted to her website. The letter corrects the Minister, stating, “My office is not involved in the development of government systems or programs and we are not an approval body of such systems or programs. It is important that the public understands that accountability for program and computer system design and implementation rests with the public body.”

The stage is now set. The Minister says ICM is “safe, secure and accessible, while protecting and supporting personal privacy.” Others (including FIPA are voicing serious concerns about how our data is being collected, used and disseminated inside and outside government.

We fear that BC may suffer a UK-style data disaster. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, surveillance systems of this nature have been abandoned due to privacy concerns and huge cost overruns. (Read more here.)

We believe it is only a matter of time before the Minister is proven wrong.

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Read the former Information and Privacy Commissioner’s message on Data Sharing Across Government here.