NEWS RELEASE: Ministerial Order an exception to the rule

MEDIA RELEASE
March 30, 2020

Ministry of Citizens’ Services relaxes restrictions on the use of third-party tools and applications to disclose personal information inside or outside of Canada

VANCOUVER, March 30, 2020 – In the time of a global emergency, the protection of privacy and access to information rights needs to be kept at the forefront of policy discussions rather than used as a trade-off for convenience.Ministerial Order (no. M085) from the Minister of Citizens’ Services has called for a relaxation of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA)’s data residency provisions in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to allowing the various provincial health authorities to disclose personal information inside or outside of Canada in response to COVID-19, the Order has given public bodies approval to use third-party tools and applications to disclose personal information inside or outside of Canada so long as they are being used “to support and maintain the operation of programs or activities of public [bodies]” and “to support public health recommendations or requirements” such as social distancing, working from home, etc. The order has an end date of June 30th, 2020.

We are firmly committed to the requirements for local data storage contained within the Act, even in extraordinary times. BC FIPA acknowledges that we are facing unprecedented challenges arising from the need to respond swiftly and responsibly to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this cannot be done at the expense of data residency and broader privacy rights. The all-party special committee who reviewed the Act in 2016 recommended that the personal information of British Columbians be protected in accordance with Canadian law – storing or accessing said data outside of Canada could subject it to a lower standard of privacy protection.  

BC FIPA is continuing to monitor for instances where the privacy of BC citizens is being sacrificed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We hoped the government had exercised due diligence and put appropriate and necessary overrides in place that were triggered with the declaration of an emergency. It appears they felt those measures were insufficient and they took further action” says Jason Woywada, BC FIPA’s executive director. “There needs to be consideration for the long-term impacts of personal information being disclosed to third parties that cross borders and the impact that creates. Privacy and data residency has been under attack for years by those who wish to profit from its erosion. Maintaining privacy and data residency requirements is a positive sum proposition and should always be considered.”

BC FIPA continues to call for a comprehensive overhaul of FIPPA that is informed by a deep and sincere commitment to updating and expanding the information and privacy rights of British Columbians.  

Contact: 
Jason Woywada, Executive Director 
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association 

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Related Links: 

Order of the Minister of Citizens’ Services: Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act: Ministerial Order No.M085 – March 17 
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/services-policies-for-government/information-management-technology/information-privacy/resources/ministerial_order_085_respecting_disclosures_during_covid-19_emergency__march_2020_pdf.

Declaration of a state of emergency – March 18 
https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020PSSG0017-000511

Decision of the OIPC Commissioner Michael McEvoy – March 18 
https://www.oipc.bc.ca/news-releases/2399

Report of the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act 2016 
https://www.leg.bc.ca/content/CommitteeDocuments/40th-parliament/5th-session/foi/Report/SCFIPPA_Report_2016-05-11.pdf