Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Nova Scotia USA Patriot Act response is back on!

After a brief recess for an election, the Nova Scotia House of Assembly is back with a new session but a boatload of bills that fell off the order paper. Among them is (newly renumbered) Bill 19, the Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act, which I blogged about earlier.

The Bill was reintroduced on June 30 and received second reading on July 6, 2006. It is now headed to committe for consideration, with what appears to be the approval of all three parties.

Here is the Minister of Justice making the motion for second reading and the response from the opposition parties:

Handsard - July 6, 2006, p. 314

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, this legislation will strengthen protections against the disclosure of Nova Scotians' personal information, under the U.S. Patriot Act. The new Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act outlines a series of requirements and penalties that protect personal information from inappropriate disclosure. We know that the U.S. security legislation has caused concerns about the American Government's ability to access personal information of Nova Scotians, held outside of Canada. This legislation clearly outlines responsibilities of public bodies, municipalities and technology service providers and the consequences if these responsibilities are not fulfilled.

Under the bill, the Minister of Justice must be notified if there is a foreign demand for disclosure of any personal information of Nova Scotians. The bill also requires that service providers storing information only collect and use personal information for the purposes of their work, for a public body or a municipality. In order for these measures to be successful, staff must be sure they will be protected if they come forward to report wrongdoing, under this bill. To that end, the bill will also provide whistle-blower protection for employees of external service providers to ensure they are protected if they report an offence under the bill. Whistle-blower protection for Nova Scotia Government staff already exists under the Civil Service Act.

Mr. Speaker, penalties under the Act include a fine of up to $2,000, or six months of imprisonment for malicious disclosure by employees of public bodies and municipalities. The Act also creates offences for service providers with penalties of up to $2,000 for employees and $500,000 for companies. Under this bill, these penalties will become part of any new contract. At the same time, we are working to strengthen our existing contracts with current service providers.

Mr. Speaker, this is a serious issue and this bill will help ensure that the privacy of Nova Scotians' information continues to be protected. With those few comments, I move second reading of Bill No. 19. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Speaker, Bill No. 19 is a bill that the NDP has been pressuring the government to pass for, I guess, two years. This is a bill that two years ago when the NDP discovered, I think it happened in British Columbia originally where the Privacy Commissioner - where they actually have a Privacy Commissioner, I may note, for the record - noticed that under the Patriot Act in the United States, an American investigating body, FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, what have you, under the Patriot Act, if there are records held

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by an American corporation or its subsidiary, in another country, that those organizations can go in and access those records; it may even be without a subpoena, but there's probably very little judicial review, but under the Patriot Act they have access to that information.

So, for example, in Nova Scotia, if our government contracts out the maintenance of the data for people who are on social assistance, or motor vehicle records, that information is handed over to an American corporation to manage that data, that maybe even a subsidiary of that company in this province or in Canada, the American authorities would have access to that. That is a concern, one that British Columbia addressed a while back and it's one that I know that this province, for two years we've asked this government to do this, it's one that we have introduced legislation on and it's one that we're now glad to see the government also understands, finally, that what the NDP was asking for is something we need to do.

It is abhorrent that even for two years we allowed this province to farm out information that could easily be accessed under the Patriot Act. Now even more, we've heard recently how the American authorities have been poring over telephone records, have been monitoring telephone calls. In this age in which - if you want to call it Neo-McCarthyism, in many ways - it's very important that we have an opportunity to ensure that the information in the private information and data of Nova Scotians is protected.

Now, someone raised this with me when the bill was first introduced back in the Spring, before the election, Mr. Speaker. At that time, we had an opportunity - it was asked, well, what's a $2,000 fine going to do? They're probably right. To be frank, the fines in this legislation are not punitive, are not a form that is going to look at these findings and say to themselves wow, do we pay a $2,000 fine and give them information to the FBI or do we say under this act we can't?

The real punitive measure in this is that the contract can be cancelled immediately if there's a violation, that is important. I suspect if we're talking about a long-term contract of maintaining data, I would suggest to you that it would result in that company having to think long and hard about having that contract ripped up and voided. That's the kind of punitive measure we can put in. I would also suggest to the government, for the record, that if they want to avoid this from happening it can easily be done by ensuring that the maintenance of that information remains in house within the government and isn't contracted out. When you contract it out then the opportunity arises.

Mr. Speaker, these are things that can be done, I'm glad to see this legislation coming forward, I'm glad to see the Tory government finally agreeing with us. I will note for the record that the minister's comments that there is a whistle-blower protection in the Civil Service Act is not correct. I would suggest to you that the regulations that were passed about a year ago, a year and a half ago in regard to whistle-blower, do not provide any protection for civil servants. Frankly, they only require them to basically have to report their problems higher up and God knows what will happen after that happens. I would suggest to you that this legislation is the

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first step, it's a good step, the NDP has asked for this for two years, we're glad to see this legislation coming forward, we're glad to see it go to the Law Amendments Committee and we're hopeful we can get it passed in this session. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton South.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of our Leader and our Justice Critic, I stand in my place this evening and say that we too will be supporting Bill No. 19 as it moves through the House. I want to commend the minister for bringing this bill forward this evening. I believe that it's an important protection for Nova Scotians and I think all Parties in this House realize that this is a bill, as the NDP House Leader states, that may be able to be improved on over time. Certainly it's a first step to have it here and hopefully it will meet with a smooth passage throughout the Law Amendments Committee and on to third reading. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the honourable minister it will be to close the debate.

The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank the Leader of the Opposition and also the House Leader for the Liberal Party for their support of this government bill. We can stand in the House and we can all take credit for good things that have happened here. This is an initiative of government and over the next coming weeks there's going to be a pattern formed here that this government is intent on increasing the penalties and supporting the laws in this province, bringing new legislation such as this, that will make our province as safe as we possible can, and that's what Nova Scotians want.

Mr. Speaker, this is a good bill that goes a long way to doing that and with that I move to close debate on second reading of Bill No. 19.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 19. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.

(See: Nova Scotia introduces amendments to thwart USA Patriot Act, Bill 16: The Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act (Nova Scotia), Nova Scotia's Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act to die on the order paper.)

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