Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nova Scotia introduces and then drops intrusive licence renewal form

Earlier today, the Nova Scotia government came under fire for introducing a new form for driver's licence renewals that asked applicants to say whether they had any kind of mental illness. (Critics: Don’t tie driver’s licence renewal to psychiatric history) Too much information, I say. So says the FOIPOP Review Officer, Dulcie McCallum.

Apparently anyone who checks off affirmatively will be required to provide a medical report detailing their mental illnesses, which may be referred to a medical panel to determine fitness to drive.

The question is so broad that it would capture loads of irrelevant information, including a bout of post-partum depression twenty years previously. Of course, many people will lie to keep their licences.

The form was introduced to replace a form that many called confusing.

What's most interesting is that the government promptly pulled the form and went back to the old one.

Backlash forces N.S. to drop new driver's licence form

“They should not be collecting personal information on this basis,” Dulcie McCallum, the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy review officer, said.

“It’s completely unnecessary.”

That kind of information has historically been used against people, she said.

“It goes kind of to the heart of things that are most intimate and that people want most protected,” Ms. McCallum said. “You can’t make any assumptions about people. You can’t have a policy that automatically creates a different standard for people.

“There’s no evidence to support that somehow psychiatric challenges make you more or less of a bad driver.”

It would be more appropriate to ask if people were taking any prescription medication that could affect their driving, she said.

“That doesn’t connect it to any particular illness or disability or historically disadvantaged group and it may be a bona fide question,” she said.

David Fraser, a Halifax lawyer who specializes in privacy law, said the province deserves credit for acting quickly to fix its error but questioned whether reverting to the old form would solve the problem.

“It sounds to me like an interesting response,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s to everybody’s benefit if they’re going back to a form that had previously been confusing.

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