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.