B.C. temporarily lifts data residency requirement in response to COVID-19

Michael McEvoy, B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner, said his office was consulted about the change

British Columbia has temporarily modified its access to information and privacy act in response to COVID-19, lifting a requirement that personal data must be stored in Canada.

The province says the pandemic requires those who work for public bodies, such as health-care workers and teachers, to use digital communication tools that are normally restricted.

Michael McEvoy, B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner, said his office was consulted about the change and will soon release guidelines to help people working in the public sector choose the right online tools.

The new provisions are reasonable given the extraordinary circumstances and they are not without limitation, he added.

“It’s a tailored response to a specific need at a specific time.”

In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Citizens’ Services used someone in self-isolation who may only know how to use one specific phone application to communicate with a nurse as an example of why the exemption is needed. It also allows teachers and university professors to access more digital tools.

READ MORE: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

There are limits on the information health-care bodies can disclose outside Canada, so the tools can only be used to communicate about COVID-19, says the ministerial order that allows the exemption.

Other public bodies, such as educational institutions, can also disclose personal information outside Canada through the use of third-party applications under certain conditions related to their own operational requirements and the public health response to the pandemic. The disclosure of personal data must be minimized overall, the order states.

Wherever personal information is being stored, each public body is still responsible for making sure the proper terms and conditions are in place to protect privacy, McEvoy said.

“That means properly reading the privacy policies that companies have,” he said.

“They need to think ahead and look to see what the terms of service are.”

Under the ministerial order that allows the exemption, public bodies must also remove personal information from each platform as soon as it’s operationally reasonable to do so.

That means if a health-care team set up a Slack channel that contains personal information, or if a doctor was using WhatsApp to communicate directly with a patient, those messages should be deleted, the ministry statement said.

McEvoy said it’s always important to avoid sharing sensitive information, even if a platform’s privacy policy appears to protect it.

It makes sense to share a lesson plan between teachers and students, for example, but teachers should talk to their students about what might not be appropriate to share, he said.

The Ministry of Education announced Wednesday that it has secured and funded licences for Zoom online conferencing for all kindergarten to Grade 12 schools in the province on a Canadian-based server.

Although the new provisions are limited and temporary, advocates for privacy and civil liberties are watching closely.

The change has the potential to place personal information outside Canadian law, said Jason Woywada, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

“If information is used inappropriately or resold without the consent of the individual that it’s related to, that’s where the problem occurs. So, if Canadians are part of a data breach that occurs in the U.S., what recourse do they have?”

Harsha Walia, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, noted the order does not define or restrict which online platforms and companies public bodies may share B.C. residents’ personal information with.

She said it’s important to ensure the information isn’t being used beyond what’s necessary, and in the long term this kind of “privacy creep” should not be normalized.

“We don’t want to become acclimatized to the encroachment of civil liberties,” she said.

“We have to be incredibly vigilant to ensure that state encroachment is not more than is reasonable, is incredibly defined and temporary, is transparent, and that it’s rationally connected to public health.”

The ministerial order is in effect until June 30 and the province said it will work with McEvoy’s office to either rescind or renew it, depending on the pandemic.

Typically, B.C. has some of the strictest requirements in the country on where personal data can be stored, said McEvoy. Nova Scotia is the only other province with similar legislation that applies to public bodies.

“Access and privacy laws are designed to allow for the sharing of information, particularly in crises like these,” he said.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crews responding to vehicle fire on Highway 97 south of Williams Lake

A witness said the 150 Mile House volunteer fire department is attending, traffic lanes still open

LETTER: Williams Lake Dry Grad Committee officially cancels festivities for 2020

Socially distanced photos to adorn some local businesses

IG Wealth Management Williams Lake gifts iPads to Cariboo Place for residents’ use

With long-term care homes on lockdown during COVID-19, residents visit family virtually

BREAKING: Jayson Gilbert charged in murder of Richard “Savage” Duncan

Gilbert also faces first degree murder in the Rudy Johnson Bridge death of Branton Regner

RCMP seize stolen vehicles, equipment and firearms in Quesnel

Quesnel resident facing multiple charges

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping the Williams Lake Tribune continue its mission to provide trusted local news

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Most Read