Canada: Privacy @ Gowlings - April 2005

Last Updated: April 21 2005

Edited by E. Michael Power


  • Alberta: Health Records Go Astray I
  • Alberta: Health Records Go Astray II
  • California: California State, UC Balk at Releasing Some Data
  • Images Capture Every Square Foot of Philadelphia
  • Maine: Library Privacy Challenged
  • Nevada: Personal Information Taken in DMV Office Break-In
  • New Zealand: Admin Errors Result in Release of Personal Information
  • Ontario: Hospitals Develop Treatment Plan for Wireless Devices
  • Ontario: Retroactive Adoption Bill to Invade Privacy of Thousands of Ontarians
  • U.S.: Insurers Still Poor on Web Privacy, Survey Says
  • U.S.: New Security Breach Disclosure Obligations for Financial Institutions

ALBERTA: Health Records Go Astray I

A Red Deer, Alberta women's health clinic that suddenly closed last week is being questioned about missing medical records. The Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons is trying to find out what happened to the medical files of hundreds of clinic patients and the province's privacy commissioner is looking for answers to ensure compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The Healthporte Medical Clinic closed last week after struggling to find enough doctors since opening last July. Patients and the clinic's two doctors arrived last Tuesday to find a closure notice on the building in Cronquist Business Park.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons is assuring patients that it is taking all possible steps to find out about their medical records. It may turn out that the records are safe and secure, but the College needs to confirm their location and accessibility.

Full press report available at:

ALBERTA: Health Records Go Astray II

Confidential health records of "hundreds of thousands" of Albertans disappeared or were tampered with while in the hands of a courier earlier this month, prompting an investigation by the province's Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Details were scarce, but government sources told the legislature bureau on March 29th that Privacy Commissioner Frank Work has been called in to investigate after data—digitized, encrypted, and stored on large reel-to-reel tapes—went missing or was otherwise tampered with while in transit between two government facilities.

It appears the tapes were backups, mainly for archival purposes. The information is considered confidential and could include medical records, prescriptions and billing history.

Full press report is available at:

CALIFORNIA: California State, UC Balk At Releasing Some Data

In defiance of state law, Cal State and UC officials are refusing to provide personal information on students that could help determine which university programs are working and which are not. The California Postsecondary Education Commission has been seeking the data since 1999, when the Legislature passed a law ordering release of the data. State officials want to determine whether their $12 billion-a-year investment in higher education is being spent effectively by tracking students' enrollment through the community college and public university systems.

While the community colleges have been providing the information without any complications or security breach for five years, officials with the University of California and California State University systems have balked, saying they did not want to compromise students' privacy.

The U.S. Department of Education has ruled that releasing the data would not violate students' privacy, but university officials say it's not that simple. Each is willing to work with CPEC, but wants more guarantees that the data will remain secure, particularly in the wake of computer hacking incidents at several UC and CSU campuses last year.

Full press report available at:,1413,205~24512~2782941,00.html

Images Capture Every Square Foot Of Philadelphia

The 27,000 aerial images are recorded by Cessnas flying in a grid pattern a few thousand feet up, using patented imaging cameras. The pictures help the city inspect businesses, assess properties, and respond to and plan for emergencies—but civil libertarians are wary about the potential for misuse.The system is being used in the city's effort to reassess every city property and give it an updated market value by 2007.

The service provider, Pictometry International, has said the Rochester, N.Y.-based company has tried to reduce privacy concerns by limiting the resolution of its pictures. Images begin to blur at a magnification that would enable the viewer to see a person's face or a license plate.

Suburban Montgomery County voted to purchase the system earlier this month, joining 125 counties, two states and eight of the nation's 10 major cities already using it.

Full press report available at:

MAINE: Library Privacy Challenged

Rep. Randy E. Hotham, R-Dixfield, has sponsored a bill that would require public libraries to tell parents what books their children have checked out.

Hotham's bill seeks to open children's records at every public library in Maine, including the Maine State Library, the Legislature's law library and all libraries operated by the University of Maine System and the Maine Maritime Academy. The records would have to be provided whenever parents request them in writing, according to the bill.

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on March 25th, after which its recommendation goes to the full Legislature.

Full press report available at:

NEVADA: Personal Information Taken In DMV Office Break-In

Personal information from more than 8,900 people was stolen when thieves broke into a Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. A computer taken during the break-in contained names, ages, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, photographs and signatures of southern Nevada residents who obtained driver's licenses between November 25 and March 4 at the North Las Vegas office.

All 21 Nevada DMV licensing stations around the state were ordered by the end of the day, March 18th, to remove personal information from computers to prevent a recurrence. The Nevada DMV planned to send certified letters informing the drivers concerned that their personal information was in the hands of thieves. The licenses of each motorist will be canceled and a new license will be issued with new identification numbers.

Full press report available at:

NEW ZEALAND: Admin Errors Result In Release Of Personal Information

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) has sent out personal file information to the wrong people six times in the last three months—including a letter about a sexual abuse claimant.

The organization said while several hundred thousand letters containing personal information were sent out in that time, the number of errors was significantly higher than usual. It had written a warning letter to staff and introduced a computer-delivered privacy training module.

A Christchurch sexual abuse victim told The Press she was among those who fell foul of the mix-ups when personal information intended for her doctor was posted to another claimant.

ACC sent her "a big bunch of flowers and an apology." However, she believed ACC only contacted her because the person who received her letter threatened to go to the media. She has since lodged a complaint with the Privacy Commission.

ACC chief executive Garry Wilson said he took very seriously the management of the personal information and was not satisfied with recent performance. ACC receives 1.6 million claims each year and its 47 operational units sent 22,000 letters and handles 20,000 phone calls each day.

Full press report is available at:,2106,3230265a7144,00.html

ONTARIO: Hospitals Develop Treatment Plan For Wireless Devices

The University Health Network might open its physical doors to anyone in need of care, but when it comes to wireless network access, it's by invitation only. The UHN, which comprises the Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret hospitals, says it has been forced to take a VIP approach to its wireless network due to the need to protect private patient data, said Dave Eagan, architect, infrastructure development.

Eagan said the UHN has been piloting wireless for a number of years. It started with a system based on the 802.11b which has been upgraded to 11g. The UHN is in the process of rolling out a medication ordering system, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2005. To wrest back control over the epidemic of random access, the UHN implemented an enterprise wireless gateway from Burlington, Massachusetts-based Bluesocket Inc.

Full press report available at:

ONTARIO: Retroactive Adoption Bill To Invade Privacy Of Thousands Of Ontarians

A new bill tabled March 29th on adoption disclosure can lead to thousands of Ontarians having their privacy invaded, says Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian.

The proposed Ontario law would give adoptees, at age 18, an unqualified right to access their original birth registration and adoption order. The original birth registration contains the personal information of the birth mother—and, at times, the birth father. These records are currently sealed once an adoption takes place.

The Commissioner is urging Community and Social Services Minister Sandra Pupatello to amend the bill to give birth parents and adoptees the right to file a "disclosure veto" where adoptions occurred prior to the introduction of the new legislation. These disclosure vetoes would introduce an element of consent for birth parents and allow them to block access to the birth registration information, if so desired.

Full press release available at:
Press report available at: (subscription required)

U.S.: Insurers Still Poor On Web Privacy, Survey Says

A consulting firm that rates Web site care and handling of customers said its latest survey finds insurers improving on responsiveness but still lagging on privacy issues.

The Customer Respect Group in Bellevue, Washington, which also rated individual carrier sites, put Progressive Corp. as the best among those it examined and Mercury General as the worst.

CRG researchers visit, analyze and rate Web sites on a 10-point scale based on six criteria: simplicity, responsiveness, transparency, principles, attitude and privacy. According to a CRG representative, George Cohen, the criteria were developed by surveying "thousands of Web users" on what was important to them when they visit a site.

On the privacy front, CRG said there was "little good news" and that carriers share user-submitted online data with business partners at "an alarming rate." Compared with the all-industry 24 per cent average for sharing such data with third parties, CRG said the figure for insurers is 35 per cent—a one-point increase over last year. According to CRG findings, 70 per cent of Web users will not supply data to a site if they are not comfortable with its privacy policy.

CRG said 50 per cent of the firms "have no obvious way for customers to choose to opt out of future marketing use of their information."

Full press report is available at:

U.S.: New Security Breach Disclosure Obligations For Financial Institutions

Banks and some other financial institutions will be required to tell customers if their private information has been obtained by hackers or identity thieves and is likely to be misused, under rules announced on March 23rd.

Under the new regulations, breaches of private information must be reported to people affected if the financial institution determines that data have been, or could be, illicitly used. The rules take effect immediately for federal and state-chartered banks, and savings and loans. The new rules, however, do not apply to brokers, credit unions or credit-reporting agencies.

The rules cover thousands of financial institutions regulated by four agencies that coordinated their rulemaking: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision.

Disclosure to consumers, however, has an exception. After industry lobbying, the rules were modified to allow an institution to investigate whether a breach would be likely to result in misuse of the data. If the organization determines that misuse is unlikely, it need not report the breach to its customers.

Some privacy advocates fear that allowing the institutions to decide whether a threat to consumers exists could diminish their incentive to improve security.

Full Press report available at:

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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