Teresa Scassa - Blog

Tuesday, 16 April 2019 06:44

Ontario Budget Bill Will Amend Public Sector Privacy Laws

Written by  Teresa Scassa
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Schedule 31 and Schedule 41 of Ontario’s new omnibus Budget Bill amend the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) respectively. One change to both statutes will expand the ability of public sector bodies to share personal information with law enforcement without consent. A more extensive set of amendments to FIPPA constitute another piece of the government’s digital and data strategy, which is further developed in the Simpler, Faster, Better Services Act, another piece of the budget bill discussed in my post here.

FIPPA and MFIPPA set the rules for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by the public sector. MFIPPA applies specifically to municipalities, and FIPPA to the broader public sector. Both statutes prohibit the disclosure of personal information under the custody or control of a public body unless such a disclosure falls under an exception. Currently, both statutes have an exception related to investigations which reads:

(g) if disclosure is to an institution or a law enforcement agency in Canada to aid an investigation undertaken with a view to a law enforcement proceeding or from which a law enforcement proceeding is likely to result;

The Budget Bill will amend this exception by replacing it with:

(g)  to an institution or a law enforcement agency in Canada if,

(i)  the disclosure is to aid in an investigation undertaken by the institution or the agency with a view to a law enforcement proceeding, or

(ii)  there is a reasonable basis to believe that an offence may have been committed and the disclosure is to enable the institution or the agency to determine whether to conduct such an investigation;

Paragraph (g)(i) is essentially the same as the original provision. What is new is paragraph (g)(ii). It broadens the circumstances in which personal information can be shared with law enforcement. Not only that, it does so in the squishiest of terms. There must be a reasonable basis to believe that an offence may have been committed. This is different from a reasonable basis to believe that an offence has been committed. Not only does it lower the threshold in the case of individuals, it may also open the door to the sharing of personal information for law enforcement fishing expeditions. After all, if enough people file for certain benefits, it might be reasonable to believe that an offence may have been committed (there’s always someone who tries to cheat the system, right?). The exception could enable the sharing of a quantity of personal information to permit the use of analytics to look for anomalies that might suggest the commission of on offence. The presence of this amendment in an omnibus budget bill that will receive very little scrutiny or debate contradicts the government’s own statement, in its announcement of its data strategy consultation, that “Data privacy and protection is paramount.” This is not a privacy-friendly amendment.

The other set of amendments to FIPPA contained in the budget bill are aimed at something labelled “data integration”. This is a process meant to allow government to derive greater value from its stores of data, by allowing it to generate useful data, including statistical data, to government and its departments and agencies. It allows for the intra-governmental sharing of data for preparing statistics for the purposes of resource management or allocation, as well as the planning and evaluation of the delivery of government funded programs and services, whether they are funded “in whole or in part, directly or indirectly” (s. 49.2(b)).

Because these amendments contemplate the use of personal information, there are measures specifically designed to protect privacy. For example, under s. 49.3, personal information is not to be used for data integration unless other data will not serve the purpose, and no more personal information shall be used than is reasonably necessary to meet the purpose. Public notice of the indirect (i.e. not directly from the individual) collection of personal information must be provided under s. 49.4. Any collection of personal information can only take place after data standards provided for in s. 49.14 have been approved by the Privacy Commissioner (s. 49.5). Once collected, steps must be taken to deidentify the personal information. The amendments include a definition of deidentification, which involves the removal of direct identifiers as well as any information “that could be used, either alone or with other information, to identify an individual based on what is reasonably foreseeable in the circumstances” (s. 49.1). Section 49.8 specifically prohibits anyone from using or attempting to use “information that has been identified under this Part, either alone or with other information, to identify an individual”.

Provision is made for the disclosure of personal information collected through the data integration scheme in limited circumstances – this includes the unfortunately worded exception discussed above where “there is a reasonable basis to believe that an offence may have been committed”. (s. 49.9(c)(ii)).

In terms of transparency, a new s. 49.10 provides for notice to be published on a website setting out information about any collection of personal information by a ministry engaged in data integration. The information provided must include the legal authority for the collection; the type of personal information that may be collected; and the information sources, the purpose of any collection, use or disclosure, as well as the nature of any linkages that will be made. Contact information must also be provided for someone who can answer any questions about the collection, use or disclosure of the personal information. Contact information must also be provided for the Privacy Commissioner. Data standards developed in relation to data integration must also be published (s. 49.14(2)), and any data integration unit that collections personal information must publish an annual report setting out prescribed information (s. 49.13).

Section 49.11 mandates the safe storage and disposal of any personal information, and sets retention limits. It also provides for data breach notification to be made to affected individuals as well as to the Commissioner. The Commissioner has the power, under s. 49.12 to review the practices and procedures of any data integration unit if the Commissioner “has reason to believe that the requirements of this Part are not being complied with”. The Commissioner has power to make orders regarding the discontinuance or the modification of practices or procedures, and can also order the destruction of personal information or require the adoption of a new practice or procedure.

The amendments regarding data integration are clearly designed to facilitate a better use of government data for the development and delivery of programs and services and for their evaluation. These are important measures and seem to have received some careful attention in the amendments. Once again, however, these seem to be important pieces of the data strategy for which the government has recently launched a consultation process that seems to be becoming more irrelevant by the day. Further, as part of an omnibus budget bill, these measures will not receive much in the way of discussion or debate. This is particularly unfortunate for two reasons. First, as the furore over Statistics Canada’s foray into using personal information to generate statistical data shows, transparency, public input and good process are important. Second, the expansion of bases on which personal information shared with government can be passed along to law enforcement merits public scrutiny, debate and discussion. Encroachments on privacy slipped by on the sly should be particularly suspect.

Login to post comments

Canadian Trademark Law

Published in 2015 by Lexis Nexis

Canadian Trademark Law 2d Edition

Buy on LexisNexis

Electronic Commerce and Internet Law in Canada, 2nd Edition

Published in 2012 by CCH Canadian Ltd.

Electronic Commerce and Internet Law in Canada

Buy on CCH Canadian

Intellectual Property for the 21st Century

Intellectual Property Law for the 21st Century:

Interdisciplinary Approaches

Purchase from Irwin Law