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B.C. contracts health claims to U.S firm despite privacy commissioner's concern.

VICTORIA -- Despite the reservations of the province's Information and Privacy Commissioner, the British Columbia government has signed a contract with Maximus, Inc., a U.S.-based firm. The firm will manage claims under the province's medical services plan. The $324 million contract covers 10-years. It meets all concerns about protecting privacy, says Health Minister Colin Hanson. The signing came two weeks after the commissioner issued his report.

"Our review of the USA Patriot Act and the outsourcing of public services in British Columbia has caused us to confront the most challenging and important privacy issues my office has faced since I took this job just over five years ago," British Columbia's Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis states in his response to a complaint by the BC Government and Service Employees Union.

The union claimed that a plan to contract provincial health plan record-keeping to a U.S.-linked company would be vulnerable to secret disclosure to the Fm and the other U.S. security agencies. The Commissioner agreed that such disclosure is a "reasonable possibility" and that "rigorous other measures must be put into place to mitigate against illegal and surreptitious access."

Following a 10-week review Loukidelis offers 16 recommendations, including:

* Legislation to make it an offence for a public body or a contractor to disclose personal information or send it outside Canada in response to a foreign court order, subpoena or warrant, with violation being punishable by a fine of up to $1 million and/or a term of imprisonment;

* outsourcing contracts should be designed to preclude control by a us company over records containing British Columbians' personal information;

* a litigation policy enabling the government to take legal action abroad, including the us, to resist demands for personal information of British Columbians made by a us or other foreign court or agency;

* British Columbia and the federal government should seek assurances from relevant us officials that they will not attempt to access, under the USA Patriot Act, personal information of residents of British Columbia;

* an immediate and comprehensive audit of interprovincial, national and transnational information sharing agreements affecting all public bodies;

* an immediate and comprehensive audit of all operational and planned data mining activities by all public bodies in British Columbia;

* legislated controls to deal with information sharing and data mining activities, in order to better protect privacy and ensure transparency around these activities.

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart welcomed the BC report for bringing the issue of cross-border sharing of personal information to the attention of governments and Canadians.
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Title Annotation:Comments
Publication:Community Action
Geographic Code:1CBRI
Date:Nov 22, 2004
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