Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Moving public records online has privacy risks, Nfld commissioner says

Newfoundland is discovering that moving public records online does have privacy effects to be considered. Both the Chief of Police and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Newfoundland are concerned about what will happen when the Companies office and the Registry of Deeds make their info available via the internet:

Online registry hurts privacy: commission

"ST. JOHN'S — The executive director of the Privacy Commissioner's office does not like the amount of personal detail available on a provincial government website.

The provincial Registry of Companies and Deeds – which has always been accessible to the public – began offering its services online in January.

The government intends to make microfilmed records and other materials accessible online.

Sandy Hounsell, the executive director of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, says the ability to more easily search land transactions – which usually reveal the addresses of homeowners – puts the privacy of particular individuals at risk.

They include "women, for example, who have been abused and who have left abusive relationships, police officers, judges, jurors."

Joyce Hancock, president of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, agrees there is a downside.

"Every step we made toward making everything technologically available must be tempered with, 'What are the risks out there?'" Hancock says.

"I think this is one where the risks outweigh the gains."

Tim Buckle, who heads the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Association, says the electronic registry creates a hazard for officers who want their home addresses kept secret.

"Police officers, when they go home, like to leave the dark side of life at work and not have their families personally involved or under any kind of threat or risk or danger," Buckle says.

Hounsell says other jurisdictions, including Manitoba, limit how much information can be obtained through electronic searching.

Hounsell would like the Department of Government Services to consider such options as online registration and user fees.

Government is reviewing the suggestions."

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