Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has announced that her office has been examining the PRIME police database, following a complaint about PRIME to BC’s Solicitor General by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).
BCCLA’s complaint states:
“The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has discovered that as many as 85% of British Columbia’s adult population have ‘master name records’ in the PRIME-BC police database. This database is used by police to prepare criminal record checks, including the controversial “negative police contact” section of those checks that can restrict access to jobs or volunteer opportunities. The BCCLA has written the Solicitor General to ask her to investigate.
“The most recent annual report for PRIMECorp, the crown corporation that administers the database, indicates that the database has 4,452,165 master name records, and B.C.’s entire population as of October 1, 2010 older than 15 years of age, was estimated by BC Stats to be 3,844,531. Even if as many as a quarter of master name records are duplicates due to aliases, misspellings or out-of-province residence, 86% of the adult population of B.C. would still be recorded in the database.
“While PRIME-BC was introduced in the Legislature as a way to better combat serial killers, sexual offenders, and career criminals, it would seem that minor traffic violations are enough to land B.C. residents in the police database, indefinitely. There is little in the way of protocol guiding how entries are made, how long information is kept, and the BCCLA frequently receives complaints about incorrect information being impossible to alter.”
The Commissioner responded publicly by confirming that her office has been examining the issue of employment-related criminal records checks for several months and will take the recent concerns voiced by the BC Civil Liberties Association about the into consideration.
“This is a very complex issue involving multiple jurisdictions, multiple data linkages, competing interests and the overlap of at least five different laws,” said Denham. “And at the end of the day, we need to be certain that the process is fair and justifiable, both ethically and legally,” she said.
“In the past, the PRIME database has been considered a highly confidential tool for law enforcement in their daily activities. If PRIME is going to be used increasingly for background checks, citizens will likely demand greater access to it to ensure any information contained therein is accurate.”
The commissioner said that her office’s examination will include consultations with the Solicitor General, civil society groups, the law enforcement community and other information and privacy commissioners. “This issue is not unique to British Columbia. It’s important to involve a broad set of stakeholders in our analysis,” she said.