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New system will risk private information: FIPA

The British Columbia government is ignoring the warnings of privacy advocates in its push to adopt a new cross-ministry computer file system.

The Feb. 9 throne speech renewed a promise for a $180-million integrated case management system that “will deliver better front-line services and supports to women, children, income assistance recipients and those most vulnerable.”

The system, which will be used by both the children and families and housing and social development ministries, will be developed by Deloitte Inc. under a six-year deal with the government.

“The ICM system will have a severe negative effect on both the privacy rights of British Columbians and the public purse,” wrote Darrel Evans, the executive director of the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, in a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell.

“It will involve massive and unprecedented matching of personal information by the provincial government which . . . has not demonstrated adequate policies, care or even competence at protecting privacy,” he wrote. “Spending $180 million to create a new system for using and disclosing personal information on this scale does not seem prudent, especially in tough economic times where we all must do more with less.”

Adopting the system raises concern about the creation of electronic profiles of individuals, Evans said. “It will create what are in effect massive dossiers of sensitive personal information about citizens without the consent of the individuals whose personal information will be shared.”

It is almost inevitable the information will at some point be leaked or stolen, he said.

Evans also quoted the most recent annual report written by former freedom of information and protection of privacy commissioner David Loukidelis: “It is certainly important that government not move forward with any legislated changes in this area unless and until there has been a full public consultation in the form of a position paper published by the government, followed by meaningful, extensive stakeholder consultations.”

The government should follow Loukidelis' “sage advice” before pursuing the project any further, Evans wrote.

The government announced today it has awarded the contract and front-line staff will have “new tools” with the system later this year. “The new system replaces seriously outdated technology that has become inflexible, increasingly fragile and difficult to adapt to policy changes,” the announcement said. “By replacing the aging computer systems, MHSD and MCFD will improve their ability to share information and to manage individual case files between ministries.”

The change responds to calls for an updated system “that better protects private information through enhanced security technology,” it said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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