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BC government failing to meet privacy law, committee told

Acting Information and Privacy Commissioner Paul Fraser yesterday criticized the British Columbia government for spending at least two years developing a $180-million computer database to collect and share people's personal information without conducting a legally required privacy impact assessment.

“One has yet to be received,” said Fraser speaking to a committee reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (see the Tyee's report). “Here's a provision in FIPPA that if it hasn't been ignored has certainly not been complied with.”

The law is silent on when assessments should happen, but Fraser said he believes they should be done in the early stages of a project. He compared them to environmental assessments, noting it would be “ludicrous” to wait until a construction project was completed before looking at its impacts on the environment.

Planning for the integrated case management system, which will include personal information from clients of the ministries of children and family development and housing and social development, has been underway for as many as three years and the province has already hired Deloitte Inc. to build the system, he said.

“We've just started that process, the privacy assessment,” said Citizens' Services Minister Ben Stewart in an interview. “First we had to come up with a design of what ICM was going to be about and that took a considerable amount of time.”

Now that the two ministries that will be the main users of the database have articulated what they want it to be able to do, the government can do a privacy review while it is being built, he said. The privacy review will be completed before the system is in use, he said.

“I'm very nervous about the fact there hasn't been a privacy impact assessment on ICM,” said Doug Routley, the NDP's critic for citizens' services and co-chair of the committee reviewing the FIPPA. “How can the government ask us to accept that a system that is widely criticized by privacy experts . . . how could they move ahead with that project without doing an adequate assessment?”

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association and the United Community Services Co-operative of B.C. yesterday released a report arguing that the ICM system will “turn service groups into surveillance organs for the government” and demanding a privacy impact assessment be done promptly.

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

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