Saturday, October 30, 2004

U.S. Eyeballs Private Canadian Info

October 29, 2004
U.S. Patriot Act can eye Canucks
By DIRK MEISSNER

VICTORIA (CP) - The United States is willing to review a British Columbia report that concludes the U.S. Patriot Act has the power to eyeball private information about Canadians, Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, said Friday.
The U.S., like Canada, is concerned about protecting the privacy rights of its citizens, but when it comes to fighting terrorists law enforcers need tools to get the job done, he said.
Cellucci made the comments following Friday's release of a report by B.C. privacy commissioner David Loukidelis who concluded private information about Canadians could be viewed by U.S. authorities despite Canadian attempts to thwart the probes.
"We live in an age of terror," said Cellucci in a telephone interview from Vancouver.
"We have to make sure law enforcement can protect us while at the same time protect privacy rights," he said.
Loukidelis said the long arm of the Patriot Act allows U.S. authorities to access the personal information of Canadians if it ends up in the United States or if it is held by U.S. companies in Canada.
"Our research and analysis led us to the conclusion that the USA Patriot Act knows no borders," he said at a news conference at the B.C. legislature.
Cellucci said the U.S. will review the B.C. report and work with the province and Canada on privacy and protection concerns.
"We're willing obviously to have a look at this to have some dialogue," he said. "We want to find the right balance where law enforcement has the tools to protect people, but we also want to protect privacy rights as well."
Ottawa said it will work with Loukidelis to address the issue of cross-border information sharing.
"Striking a balance between the protection of privacy and the promotion of national security is one of the single most important issues facing our society today," said Jennifer Stoddart, privacy commissioner of Canada, in a statement.
Stoddart's office will work to address several of the 16 recommendations in Loukidelis's report, including reviewing the federal privacy and anti-terrorism acts.
"There is a considerable degree of uncertainty and anxiety with the broader issue of trans-border exchanges of information, done by both public-sector and private-sector organizations," said Stoddart.
"Canadians deserve to know how their personal information is being shared."
The B.C. government passed a law this month aimed at preventing U.S. authorities from examining information about British Columbians held by private U.S. companies. It included fines ranging from $2,000 for individuals to $500,000 for corporations.
Loukidelis said B.C.'s Bill 73 is a significant move forward in privacy protection, but tougher measures are needed, especially when it comes to sending signals to the Americans that British Columbia will fight outside security probes and will deal harshly with offenders.
"It is never possible to guarantee perfect protection of information. Regardless, our report concludes that measures can and should be put in place that meaningfully and adequately protect against the risk of access under the USA Patriot Act," he said.
Prison terms and a doubling of fines for corporate offenders to $1 million should be included in amendments to the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Loukidelis said.
Heavy fines and prison terms are ways of showing the Americans that Canada will not take lightly any attempts to access information about Canadians, he said.
The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union has already launched a lawsuit challenging the outsourcing of MSP administration.
"There is absolutely no doubt that this government has placed the private personal information of British Columbians at risk of disclosure to the FBI and American authorities and that they propose to continue to do so despite these very significant findings by Mr. Loukidelis," said George Heyman, president of the 27,000-member union.
The B.C. government will review Loukidelis's report even though it believes its privacy legislation is among the best in the world, said Joyce Murray, management services minister.
She said the Liberal government will continue with plans that could see a U.S. firm take over the administration of the provincial Medical Services Plan.
The 151-page report also concluded U.S. courts have the power to require American companies to produce records held in Canada by subsidiaries "because they have the legal or practical ability to obtain the records."
The Patriot Act was enacted following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Section 215 of the act allows a special court to secretly issue an order requiring "the production of any tangible things" to the FBI.
It gives the U.S. government sweeping powers to review information banks of private and public businesses in an effort to hunt down terrorists.
Loukidelis launched the Patriot Act review after concerns were raised U.S. authorities such as the FBI might have access to B.C. residents' health information if the provincial government contracts out the billing of medical premiums to a company with a U.S. parent.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft were asked last May to contribute to the B.C. study.
"We have concluded that if information is located outside British Columbia, it will be subject to the law that applies where it is found, regardless of an outsourcing contract," said Loukidelis's report.
"Therefore, if an outsourcing agreement calls for personal information to be sent to the United States, that information would be subject to the USA Patriot Act while in the United States."
The B.C. legislation amended the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to, among other things, restrict storage and access of information outside Canada and included fines for those who improperly disclose private information.
Loukidelis said he doesn't agree with earlier B.C. government statements that the risk posed by the USA Patriot Act to the privacy of British Columbians is minimal.
"There is no reason to think that the risk of USA Patriot Act access is minimal or vanishingly small," Loukidelis said.
He recommended overhauling Canadian and provincial privacy laws to make it tougher to access the Canadian information.
The commissioner heard more than 500 submissions from unions and the provincial government, from private citizens and from U.S. authorities.
He said people feel they are losing control over what happens to their personal information and worry their privacy rights are being overtaken by security concerns.
Many are also concerned there is too much blurring of the lines between information used for domestic law enforcement, information used by governments who provide services and information used by governments investigating terrorism threats.
Outsourcing to U.S. companies by provincial governments isn't unique to B.C., Loukidelis said.
Nova Scotia employs a U.S. based company to manage provincial government databases, including social assistance, payroll and motor vehicle registration. Control of the database remains in Canada.
Saskatchewan has outsourced some government services to U.S. companies and Ontario has outsourced social assistance operations to a private company.
Even Statistics Canada has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin Canada - which has a U.S. parent - to develop the hardware and software to process census forms, Loukidelis said. But all the data will be handled by Statistics Canada.
CIBC credit card holders in Canada sign an agreement that their information could be viewed by U.S. authorities, the report said.
The report does not call for a ban on the outsourcing of Canadian materials to U.S.-based companies or subsidiaries.
Loukidelis said a ban on outsourcing still doesn't completely protect Canadian information from the USA Patriot Act, but tough laws and policies send strong messages that Canada values its privacy.