Community organizations call for public inquiry into Integrated Case Management system

Following a scathing statement from the Representative for Children and Youth, and with the Privacy Commissioner and Auditor General also looking at the situation, several non-profit groups and privacy advocates have written to Premier Christy Clark seeking a public inquiry into the $200 million Integrated Case Management (ICM) project. The letter to the Premier is available online.

The ICM system was supposed to create a comprehensive personal data sharing system involving not just the provincial government, but also hundreds of independent community service organizations contracted to provide government services. It was supposed to provide “the right information, to the right people, at the right time.” Instead, there has been a litany of concerns over the system, such as whether sensitive personal information is being properly captured, training difficulties, and “overwhelming” technical issues.

The government amended the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) to make this system possible, despite warnings about the dangers to personal privacy rights and the high profile failures of similar projects in the past.

“In terms of training and daily use, the ICM and related systems have proven to be failures,” said FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek. “This is quite apart from the very serious dangers it poses to privacy rights, which Commissioner Denham is now looking into. We need a public inquiry to look at all the failings of the system.”

“The problems with the ICM are inherent in the system’s very concept, design and technological architecture,” said Micheal Vonn, Policy Director with the BC Civil Liberties Association. “That is why we need a public inquiry.” The BCCLA’s letter can be found here.

A 2010 report by FIPA and the BCCLA entitled Culture of Care…or Culture of Surveillance? set out serious concerns about the ICM system, regarding privacy rights and the potential effect of the program on social services and the independent community service organizations themselves. It can be a found here.

“The potential for privacy breaches within the ICM can endanger the health and well-being of British Columbians who suffer from highly stigmatized medical conditions,” said Ken Buchanan, chair of Positive Living BC. “Our clients need a system that protects their privacy and the ICM is clearly not that system. We need to know why this happened.” Positive Living’s letter can be found here.

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.

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.