Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Round two of labour-sponsored privacy campaign against BC government to begin

Labour groups are once again attacking the government of British Columbia for outsourcing public services that involve personal information. This second campaign comes after its high-profile attempt to derail the outsourcing of the province's medicare administration (See BCGEU's privacy campaign). While that campaign did not dissuade the Campbell government from its plans (BC announces medical privatization plan), it did lead to a significant inquiry by the province's Information and Privacy Commissioner. Now under attack is the province's plan to outsource bill collection:

B.C. opens private bank and credit data to U.S. scrutiny: "B.C. opens private bank and credit data to U.S. scrutiny

New privatization deal means U.S. authorities will have access to bank account and credit card numbers, property records, income and driver's licence information on B.C. residents

Vancouver - The B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE) plans to launch a new campaign this week warning residents that the Liberal government of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is making highly personal data vulnerable to American scrutiny through outsourcing and privatization.

The latest information to be placed in the hands of private American companies involves a wide range of information on most B.C. residents, including bank account and credit card numbers, property records, income and driver's licence information.

The province announced a $572-million ($483-million US) deal Friday with Electronic Data Systems (EDS) of Plano, Texas, to take over much of its bill collection activity. The 10-year deal comes with barely six months remaining in the Liberals' current mandate.

The province argues that privacy provisions contained in the contract will safeguard personal information but the union says the government is misleading citizens because it is already known that the contract will not withstand the overriding and intrusive powers available to American authorities under the U.S. Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The deal is even worse than a recent 10-year, $324-million contract signed with U.S.-based Maximus Inc. to privatize the processing of the medical claims of B.C. residents.

Privacy commissioner ignored

Once again, the province has ignored concerns raised by its own information and privacy commissioner, putting private sector ideological interests ahead of those of its own people, the BCGEU says.

Essentially, the latest contract means that intensely personal information on most British Columbians will be exposed to potential scrutiny by the FBI and other U.S. government agencies, the union warns.

"It’s another example of the Liberals bullying ahead without heeding the warnings of privacy commissioner David Loukidelis issues raised by the privatizing of records management, says BCGEU president George Heyman.

Loukidelis said the U.S. Patriot Act creates a real risk that personal information, once placed in the hands of private companies with U.S. links, will be open to scrutiny by the FBI and other American agencies. He recommended a series of measures to protect the privacy of British Columbians.

Heyman says Premier Campbell has failed to take the necessary range of measures recommended by the commissioner.

Patriot Act applies

"The fact is that the Patriot Act applies. EDS is an American company, and all the records in its possession are exposed," Heyman says.

"The Campbell government is clearly misleading the public and betraying the promise they made to British Columbians that real protections would be in place before any contracts were signed."

A long list of personal data at risk, Heyman warns..

"It includes everything from credit card and bank account numbers, personal property and asset details, individual and family income, and drivers license, vehicle and insurance information. It’s pretty serious stuff that British Columbians wouldn’t want to share with the Bush government," he says.

Meanwhile, the BCGEU leader said full details on his union's latest campaign to warn residents will be announced this week. The union is also continuing efforts to mount a legal challenge to the government.

The union says privacy guarantees written into the contract by EDS and the province will be overridden by the all-intrusive federal powers of the U.S. Privacy Act.


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