Statement on Section 22 of Bill 35: FIPPA Reform

From FIPA President Mike Larsen

The introduction of the amendments to B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) contained in section 22 of Bill 35 demonstrate that the government is willing to move forward on legislative reform.

And as the all-party special committee who reviewed the Act in 2016 found in their 39 recommendations, the FIPPA is definitely in need of reform.

But, when it comes to the proposed amendments to the FIPPA contained in Bill 35, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) supports the assessment of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of B.C. (OIPC).

We are firmly committed to the requirements for local data storage contained within the Act. We do not support amendments to the legislation that function to erode the protections enshrined in the Act. The OIPC assessment of the language in section 22 of Bill 35 as “too permissive” is entirely accurate.

B.C. FIPA is disappointed by the proposed reforms to the FIPPA for the following reasons:

  • The government has made numerous commitments to transparency and privacy that are not achieved by these amendments. They promised comprehensive FIPPA reform in their campaign; they have consulted with the public around FIPPA reform; they have strong recommendations for reform from legislative review and from current and former Information and Privacy Commissioners.
  • We do not support reforms to the Act that weaken existing privacy protections for British Columbians. The proposed amendments deal with exceptions to current outside-of-Canada processing and storage restrictions. To date, this is the only legislative reform that the government has proposed to the FIPPA. Rather than strengthening freedom of information or protection of privacy, the proposed amendments is a qualification of existing rights, and not an expansion.
  • We do not need incremental FIPPA reforms through “Miscellaneous Statute Amendments”. We need a comprehensive overhaul of the FIPPA that is informed by a deep and sincere commitment to updating and expanding the information and privacy rights of British Columbians. This requires vision and leadership.

Despite all of this, the proposed amendments in section 22 of Bill 35 do demonstrate that the government is willing to make reforms to the FIPPA. In the wake of scandal, the challenge for the government will be to realize the possibility of these reforms. The proposed amendments for the FIPPA in Bill 35 are a move that is too little, too late, and in the wrong direction.

The government now has an opportunity to distinguish itself from previous governments by proposing meaningful reform that further the information and privacy rights for British Columbians. They have promised transparency and accountability and it is now time to demonstrate it.

Commissioner’s Order protects privacy while promoting democratic values

Vancouver, August 30, 2019 – Yesterday, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC, Michael McEvoy, issued an Order stating that BC’s privacy laws apply to the electoral district associations of federal political parties, despite their contestations.

The Order affirms that all organizations in BC, including those created by federal political parties, must be held to the same standard when it comes to the protection of privacy. Under BC’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), individuals have the right to know what personal information is in the possession of an organization, how this information is used, how it has been acquired, and where it has been shared.

Until yesterday’s Order, federal political parties operated as if they were not subject to any privacy laws that grant people these vital information rights, which in turn negatively affects both privacy and Canada’s democratic values. Electoral politics are increasingly shaped by big data. The Cambridge Analytica scandal gave the public a glimpse into how data collection, database development, and micro-targeting have become key components in political parties’ electoral toolkits.

“It is our position that the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by political parties at any level should be subject to strong and enforceable privacy legislation,” says Mike Larsen, FIPA President. “People should have a right to know how political parties are using their personal information, and collection and use should be based on the principle of informed consent.”

FIPA was issued a notice of hearing in this case and made a submission that challenged the argument that the application of PIPA to a federal electoral district association would infringe on the Charter of Rights Freedoms, which Commissioner McEvoy has agreed with. In the next phase of this process, the Commissioner will consider whether the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by the electoral district association complies with PIPA.

Contact:

Mike Larsen, President

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

Whistleblower Accusations Highlight Need for Legislative Reform

Vancouver, May 17, 2019 – Question period in the BC Legislature this week has been occupied by the accusations of a whistleblower who claims that the Minister of Citizens’ Services, Jinny Sims, has been using her personal email address to conduct government business in order to circumvent Freedom of Information laws.

This is particularly troublesome as Minister Sims oversees the administration of those very laws and made a public apology only one year ago for a similar indiscretion.

During question period this week, Attorney General David Eby stated that the Office of the Information and Privacy (OIPC) Commissioner was the correct place to investigate accusations of this nature.

However, a statement today from the OIPC indicates that they are unable to investigate these claims.

“The Minister’s alleged failure to fulfill her duty to document is not a matter under my authority,” writes Commissioner Michael McEvoy of the OIPC. “This is a significant shortcoming of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).”

Legislative changes that recently came into effect, which Minister Sims characterized as a duty to document, give Minister Sims—not the OIPC—the authority to ensure compliance.

“As it now stands, the Information Management Act designates the Minister herself as primarily responsible for ensuring her Ministry’s compliance with the duty to document decisions,” writes Commissioner McEvoy. “Citizens would find it very surprising that, on its face, the current law makes a Minister responsible for investigating her own conduct.”

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) supports the Commissioner’s call for government to keep its promise of reforming FIPPA to include a duty to document that provides independent oversight so that citizens can be assured that government is accountable.

“John Horgan has promised FIPPA reform. He has promised that his government will do better,” says Sara Neuert, FIPA’s Executive Director. “The citizens of British Columbia need him to keep that promise. Including the duty to document in the FIPPA will build public trust by providing independent oversight.”

“The accusations of the whistleblower demonstrate that this isn’t happening fast enough and that we require timelines to ensure that John Horgan is keeping his promise. The time for action is now.” says Neuert.

Contact:

Sara Neuert, Executive Director

BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Email: fipa (at) fipa.bc.ca

Phone: 604-739-9788

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