Health Files To Get Extra Guard
Province To Hire New Watchdog Over Privacy
By Theresa Boyle
QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU
Tuesday, January 16, 2001, Toronto Star.
The province plans to appoint a senior bureaucrat to ensure the security of
Ontarians’ confidential health files, the privacy commissioner says.
An assistant privacy commissioner, dedicated to health, will be hired this summer or fall, Ann Cavoukian said yesterday. “I think it’s excellent.”
The assistant commissioner will ensure compliance with the new Personal Health Information Privacy Act, introduced last month, that’s expected to pass when the Legislature reconvenes this spring.
The government insists the act will safeguard the privacy of sensitive information but critics argue it could do the exact opposite. It gives government bureaucrats, private researchers and police access to patients’ confidential health records.
The move to appoint a senior bureaucrat comes a week after The Star ran a special report on privacy. It found sensitive medical data about Canadians is being electronically stockpiled at an alarming rate - ranging from who’s had abortions to profiles of the mentally ill.
In one case, Dr. James Sears - calling himself North America’s top medical investigator - said he effortlessly collects health data on individuals by calling up doctor’s offices and hospitals and asking for it.
Public hearings into the act begin next month and Cavoukian will be among the first to make submissions.
“I’m not defending this bill at all,” she said. “The (proposed) list of permissible uses without consent is far too long.”
She also worries that the “directed disclosures” section gives the health minister too much access.