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Commissioner raps health minister for attack on privacy

Acting information and privacy commissioner Paul Fraser has asked health minister Kevin Falcon to withdraw proposed amendments to health legislation until privacy concerns are fully considered.

“I was taken by surprise to discover these very significant amendments in a miscellaneous bill,” said Fraser in an April 22 letter. Bill 11, the 2010: Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2010, introduced this week, includes changes to the Ministry of Health Act, Public Health Act and the Health Authorities Act dealing with how personal information is managed.

“The amendments will allow for extensive sharing of personal information across numerous public bodies,” wrote Fraser.

He referred to his recent appearance in front of the committee reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, where he said expediency is consistently trumping privacy. “These proposed amendments continue that unfortunate trend and raise mounting concerns about the privacy of British Columbians.”

Fraser recommended the amendments be immediately removed from the bill before the legislature “so that our offices can continue to discuss the proposals and so that the serious privacy concerns raised by the proposed data sharing are properly and completely canvassed before any further legislative proposals are introduced.”

Falcon was not immediately available for an interview.

The health services ministry and the health authorities need to be seen as an integrated system, a ministry spokesperson said in an e-mail. "These amendments are about administrative and program data that we require to effectively manage the healthcare system in the best interests of patients. We are not talking about access to a person’s hospital or care facility chart."

The amendments will be debated in the legislature, the statement said.

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

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