Landmark court ruling upholds right of access to electronic records

A ruling handed down on January 13 by the Ontario Court of Appeal is “a landmark decision that upholds the principles of openness and transparency as applied to electronic records,” said Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian.

The Court allowed appeals by the Commissioner and a Toronto Star reporter from a Divisional Court ruling and restored the Commissioner’s Order applying the definition of “record” in section 2 of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to electronic databases maintained by the Toronto Police Services Board.

In that Order, the Commissioner held that the need to develop a computer program to anonymize personally identifiable information held in the databases would not result in the creation of new records outside the scope of Ontario’s freedom of information legislation.

In its ruling, the Court directed the Toronto Police Services Board to respond to the Star’s requests immediately and to pay the newspaper’s legal costs.

News release

Article, Toronto Star

Privacy groups slam use of CIA-backed software to manage Canadian health files

Privacy advocates are questioning the use of CIA-funded software to manage Canadian medical records. Software that will help sort millions of Canadian health records was developed by a company funded through the CIA’s venture capital partner, sparking concerns about the confidentiality of patient data.

Privacy advocates are raising questions about Canadian use of the Initiate Systems indexing program given its creator’s financial connection to In-Q-Tel — a private firm that helps the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency zero in on promising technology.

Initiate Systems of Chicago has sold the indexing software to Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and Ontario for use in a national initiative to better manage health records.

Canada Health Info-way, a non-profit corporation funded by Canada’s federal government, aims to create compatible electronic health information systems across the country. Info-way promotes and subsidizes the use of the Initiate software.

Infoway spokesman Kirk Fergusson said preliminary inquiries indicate Initiate doesn’t have access to any client health data held by the provinces. “Thus far, that seems to be the story.”

In-Q-Tel was established seven years ago as a private company to help the CIA and the broader U.S. intelligence community identify, acquire and use cutting-edge technologies. Though not part of the CIA, In-Q-Tel consults with the intelligence agency on the strategic value of potential transactions. The venture capital firm made an investment in Initiate Systems earlier this year.

Despite the assurances, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) remains skeptical that Initiate Systems will not see patient data. “I simply don’t believe they will never have access,” said FIPA’s Darrell Evans. “I think there’s reason to be concerned about this.”

Evans contends the arrangement with a U.S. firm with intelligence ties increases the vulnerability of such files in an era when security agencies are keenly interested in personal dossiers to fight terrorism.

“Governments want this information. There’s no question. If they see the need for it, they will get it,” said Evans. “If this contract follows the usual pattern, the US company will have access to the database for purposes of upgrades, maintenance, troubleshooting and disaster recovery — and when there is such access, US security and law enforcement agencies will also potentially have access.”

Read the full article by Jim Bronskill of Canadian Press.

International Coalition warns of global mass surveillance

FIPA has joined with 83 other Civil liberties groups in the “International Campaign against Mass Surveillance”. The campaign is calling on countries around the globe to rein in the growing number of “intrusive and discriminatory measures” that profile, monitor and track individuals in the name of fighting terrorism.

Citizens and groups around the world are being asked to endorse a declaration that mass surveillance is not the solution to terrorism.

Driven largely by the United States, countries are aggressively using information gathered and shared through electronic systems to crack down on dissent, close borders to refugees and activists, and seize and detain people without reasonable grounds, the ad-hoc coalition says.

“The object of the infrastructure is not ordinary police work, but mass surveillance of entire populations,” says a declaration issued by campaign members. “In its technological capacity and global reach, it is an unprecedented project of social control.”

The campaign is spearheaded by groups including the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, the American Civil Liberties Union and Statewatch, based in Europe.

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ICAMS web page

List of supporting organizations

Right to Privacy Campaign’ launched to protect individuals’ privacy by stopping Maximus deal

A diverse and growing group of rights, health, union and other organizations has launched a province-wide campaign to demand that the BC government drop its proposed deal with the Maximus corporation because of the privacy implications of the USA PATRIOT Act.

The Right to Privacy Campaign believes that contracting out the administrative functions of BC’s Medical Services Plan (MSP) and PharmaCare to the American corporation Maximus Inc. will place British Columbians’ confidential health and related information within easy reach of the FBI and, through the FBI, the entire array of American government agencies.

Privacy Commissioner calls for submissions

BC’s Privacy Commissioner has launched a public inquiry to review the impact of the U.S. Patriot Act on government plans to contract out the MSP. He has invited submissions from American and Canadian experts and the general public and expects to issue his report by August 13, 2004. The Campaign is urging British Columbians to send submissions expressing their views about the Maximus deal.

News Release

Request for Submissions – Assessing USA Patriot Act Implications for Privacy Compliance under British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

Campaign Goal

The primary goal of the Right to Privacy Campaign is to ensure that there is “no contracting out by the Government of BC of information or information management, such as MSP or PharmaCare, to any company subject to foreign laws that violate the privacy rights of Canadians, like the USA PATRIOT Act”.

“We are on the edge of a new and frightening era in which surveillance of citizens by governments and their private-sector partners could become the dominant reality of our society – in other words, an era in which Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ vision could actually be realized,” said Darrell Evans, Executive Director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

“Whether or not we go over that edge and create what has been called a “surveillance society” will depend on how willing citizens are to draw a line and say “no further” to government attempts to probe into and record the facts of our private lives.”

CITIZEN BULLETIN

The Right to Privacy Campaign website features information on the Privacy Commissioner’s inquiry, current legal actions, backgrounders, and suggested action steps for organizations and citizens. Included is a section with easy-to-follow suggestions for preparing a submission to the Privacy Commissioner.