Saturday, April 29, 2006

BC Government proposes rollbacks to USA Patriot Act provisions in FIPPA

The British Columbia Government has introduced amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the province's public sector privacy and access law, to roll back some of the more recent amendments made in response to fears about the USA Patriot Act. (BILL 30 -- 2006: MISCELLANEOUS STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT (No. 2), 2006). The Information and Privacy Commissioner is generally in agreemenet with the cross-border amendments and has issued a statement published on his website:

Bill 30 (Miscellaneous Statues Amendment Act, 2006)––Amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FIPPA”) and the Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”)––OIPC File No. F05-26470

Further to my letter of April 27, 2006, I have now had an opportunity to consider the other amendments that the above Bill would make to FIPPA and to PIPA. I support these amendments.

In the case of amendments to FIPPA in relation to location of personal information outside of Canada or access to it from outside Canada, I support these amendments as reasonable. I note that they are narrowly tailored and would permit location of personal information outside Canada or access from outside Canada only where a public body official is temporarily travelling outside Canada or for “installing, implementing, maintaining, repairing, trouble shooting or upgrading an electronic system or equipment that includes an electronic system” or “for data recovery that is being undertaken following failure of an electronic system”.

The BC Government Employees Union, which started the USA Patriot Act and oursourcing fuss some time ago, is not at all happy. Here's their statement:

BCGEU: Liberal efforts to weaken privacy protection, .....:FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

APRIL 28, 2006

Liberal efforts to weaken privacy protection, limit freedom of information buried in omnibus legislation

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union is adding its name to the list of groups opposed to sweeping changes in privacy protections and access to information contained in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) which the Campbell government tried to bury in an omnibus piece of legislation introduced Thursday in the Legislature.

“These are very troubling measures that are ill advised and just plain dangerous,” warns BCGEU president George Heyman. “It’s a real setback for open and transparent government.”

Heyman says the proposed amendments roll back provisions to protect personal privacy implemented in 2004 to address concerns around the USA Patriot Act, based on recommendations by B.C.’s privacy commissioner. That Act—which was just renewed by the Bush government—gives U.S. security agencies like the FBI sweeping powers to obtain information from companies and individuals in that country.

“Victoria is putting British Columbians’ highly sensitive personal information at risk by weakening current protections—thereby increasing the risk of loss and theft, or exposure to the intrusive powers of the USA Patriot Act.”

Changes to section 33 of FIPPA will severely compromise current privacy protections by giving the green light to public bodies to release British Columbians’ personal information outside B.C. and Canada to a shopping list of officials and interests—including employees of private U.S. companies like Maximus and EDS hired by the government—to administer our personal medical and financial records.

“Given the recent high profile failures of this government to protect sensitive personal information, this is a development that will alarm British Columbians,” says Heyman.

Meanwhile, other changes to sections 17 and 21 of FIPPA will enable Victoria to expand the heavy veil of secrecy around privatization projects and private-public partnerships by giving government sweeping powers to withhold information from the public. “These amendments establish that the interests of private companies will take precedent over British Columbians’ right to know,” Heyman says.

He also cautions that proposed Liberal amendments include provisions that will compound the lengthy delays already faced by British Columbians filing access to information requests with government and public bodies, by allowing the government to manipulate response deadlines.

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