Privacy commissioner raps B.C. for massive privacy protection failure

VICTORIA -- British Columbia's Education Ministry lost personal information pertaining to 3.4 million students when staff breached security policies and misplaced a hard drive with data stretching back 30 years, an investigation has revealed.

See Full Article

Privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a report released Thursday that the ministry did not secure a portable hard drive when the information was transferred from computer servers in an effort to save on storage costs.

A series of actions put the information at risk, assistant commissioner Jay Fedorak said.

"The policies were good and it appeared that the employees were aware of the policies," he said in an interview. "They just didn't follow them."

"Policy is important, but policy alone isn't enough," Fedorak said. "It's important that there be adequate and effective training of staff and some compliance auditing or follow-up."

The lost information collected between 1986 and 2009 was mostly associated with students in British Columbia and Yukon.

It included names, addresses, dates of birth, gender, grades, schools, personal education numbers, graduation status, financial aid data and designations such as ESL or special needs.

A smaller number of records included more sensitive information, such as teacher retirement plans, education outcomes for student cancer survivors, health and behaviour issues and children in care.

The ministry discovered the drive missing last August, when a team of up to 50 bureaucrats began searching, to no avail. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commission was notified in September.

"They satisfied us they had looked in every box, in every desk, in every drawer, and they weren't able to find it," Fedorak said.

Investigators said the device could have been missing for as long as five years. After moving information off the server, staff failed to encrypt the device. Then they transferred it to a warehouse that wasn't equipped to secure information or keep track of devices for retrieval.

Denham made nine recommendations to strengthen the security of personal information, including encrypting all mobile data storage devices and maintaining accurate inventories of personal information.

"If this was actually a situation involving a cash loss of $3.4 million, I believe the government would take rapid, dramatic and decisive action to deal with the situation," she said in her report.

Education Minister Mike Bernier acknowledged the privacy breach as "unacceptable" and described the commissioner's assessment and recommendations as "fair and balanced."

"We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this incident may have caused people," he said in a statement.

Bernier also said the government must do a better job of ensuring that public servants receive ongoing training. He said a formal review of the ministry's personal information management practices is underway.

Enhanced privacy policies will be introduced in the coming weeks, he said.

But Opposition New Democrat education critic Rob Fleming said he's not convinced the government's actions will fix deeply rooted privacy problems. He pointed to other breaches that have occurred in the health and forests ministries.

"(This is) bad decision making in a crisis-like environment, I think, created by B.C. Liberals cuts in the Ministry of Education and elsewhere."

The commission will follow up in three months to determine the extent to which the ministry has implemented the recommendations. It will also conduct an audit of privacy training.


Latest Canada & World News

  • Donald Trump: Don't believe polls, 'we are winning' [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    PALM BEACH, FLA. - Election Day just 15 days off, Donald Trump fought to preserve his narrow path to the presidency in must-win Florida on Monday. Hillary Clinton worked to slam the door on her Republican opponent in New Hampshire. Source
  • Trump on porn star accuser: ‘Oh, I’m sure she’s never been grabbed before’

    World News Toronto Sun
    Donald Trump mocked former porn star Jessica Drake for her claims he was sexually inappropriate towards her, telling a New Hampshire radio station: “Oh, I’m sure she’s never been grabbed before.” #Trump on Jessica Drake who accused him of sexual assault: "Oh I'm sure she's never been grabbed before. Source
  • Bus driver to blame for Edmonton child being dropped off far from stop, says Catholic district

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    A failure to follow procedures is to blame for an Edmonton kindergartner being dropped off kilometres from his stop, says a statement from Edmonton Catholic Schools. “Using seating plans so that kindergarten and Grade 1 students are seated at the front of the bus, identifying these young students with a red bus pass pouch and providing drivers with a schedule listing students, their grade and stop location with a reminder about the policy are all safeguards for the drivers to use,” said the…
  • U.S. movie theatres to put election night on the big screen in 25 cities

    World News CBC News
    AMC Theatres has partnered with CNN to broadcast the Nov. 8 presidential election on the big screen at 50 theatres in 25 cities nationwide. Each location will be designated as either "red" or "blue" (Republican or Democratic) and attendees may choose their theatre based on party preference. Source
  • Judges in Alta. custody case ordered boy not to wear girls clothes in public

    Canada News CTV News
    MEDICINE HAT, Alta. -- A gender identity expert says judges need more education after two Alberta family court judges ruled a child born a boy can't wear girls clothes in public. Kris Wells, with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, says the case shows some judges need their attitudes challenged and corrected. Source
  • Liberals to bring Yazidi survivors of ISIS genocide to Canada within 4 months

    Canada News CBC News
    The federal government is committing to take urgent steps to bring Yazidi refugees to Canada within four months. Immigration, Refugees and CItizenship Minister John McCallum announced during question period today that Liberals will support a wide-ranging motion from the Opposition Conservatives to help survivors of ISIS genocide. Source
  • Dog trapped in well for almost a month showing strong will to live: vet school

    Canada News CTV News
    SASKATOON -- A chocolate Labrador retriever trapped in a well for almost a month is responding to special care from animal medical clinicians and a nutritionist. Seven-year-old Bruno is listed as stable in the intensive care unit at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon. Source
  • Alberta taps climate change fund to help farmers reduce CO2 emissions

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- Alberta is tapping into its industrial carbon levy fund to help the farm sector reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The province says it will spend $10 million to expand existing programs that encourage producers to use energy efficient equipment and solar power. Source
  • Woman dies after allegedly throwing herself onto highway to escape abusive husband

    World News Toronto Sun
    An Oklahoma mother of five hurled herself out of a moving car allegedly to escape her abusive husband, friends say. Brianne King, 33, was riding in the passenger’s seat of a vehicle being driven by her husband Michael Muller, when police suspect she opened the vehicle door and threw herself onto a busy highway last Tuesday, according to local station KFOR-TV. Source
  • Why one piece of evidence mattered so much in Dennis Oland murder case

    Canada News CTV News
    From the earliest days in Dennis Oland's murder trial, the Crown faced an uphill battle to convince jurors that a precarious balance of circumstantial evidence added up to a guilty verdict. Nonetheless, in December jurors found the member of the clan that owns Moosehead Breweries guilty of the second-degree murder of his father, as family members wept loudly in the Saint John courtroom. Source