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.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Man accused of smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES β€” A man was arrested on federal smuggling charges Tuesday after customs officers intercepted a shipment with three live king cobras hidden inside potato chip canisters that were being mailed to his California home, U.S. Source
  • Europe rights court: Sex still important for older women

    World News CTV News
    LISBON, Portugal -- Judges in Portugal were guilty of sexual discrimination in a medical compensation case when they decided that the importance of sex diminished with the age of a woman, Europe's human rights court ruled in a judgment published Tuesday. Source
  • Toronto courier company offers work, support to those with developmental disabilities

    Canada News CTV News
    For many people with developmental disabilities, finding a full-time job that provides the necessary support is a major challenge. It’s estimated that more than 70 per cent of Canadian adults with developmental disabilities are unemployed, according to Statistics Canada. Source
  • Australia's highest-ranking Catholic in court to face sex charges

    World News CBC News
    The most senior Vatican official ever charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis made his first court appearance in Australia on Wednesday in a scandal that has stunned the Holy See and threatened to tarnish the pope's image as a crusader against abusive clergy. Source
  • First Nations treaties, revenue sharing top priorities with B.C. NDP government

    Canada News CTV News
    VICTORIA -- British Columbia's new premier has placed First Nations issues near the top of his government's to-do list, committing his cabinet to transforming stalled treaty talks and negotiating revenue-sharing agreements. The priority shift prompted a "hallelujah" Tuesday from one Indigenous leader. Source
  • Alaska man says boat attacked by orca whale

    World News CTV News
    SITKA, Alaska -- An Alaska man said his boat was attacked over the weekend by an orca during a salmon fishing excursion with his 14-year-old son and two other people. Victor Littlefield of Sitka said the killer whale repeatedly rammed the boat, yanked its anchor line and slapped the boat's bow with its tail. Source
  • Top Vatican official faces Australian court on sex charges [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    MELBOURNE, Australia β€” The most senior Vatican official ever charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis arrived at an Australian court on Wednesday for his first court appearance, as he vows to clear his name in a scandal that has rattled Rome. Source
  • Ivanka Trump speaks at Pence fundraiser

    World News CTV News
    Ivanka Trump, center, and her husband, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, right, sit in the front row during a joint news conference of President Donald Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Tuesday, July 25, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Source
  • U.S. and China report progress on new North Korea sanctions

    World News CTV News
    The United States and China said Tuesday they are making progress on a new U.N. resolution that would impose additional sanctions against North Korea following its test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. The U.S. Source
  • American says she was duped into Saskatoon white powder video confession

    World News Toronto Sun
    SASKATOON β€” A woman from North Carolina has come forward as the person who recorded a video where she unwittingly confessed to sending packages of white powder around Saskatoon. Samantha Field tells CTV News she created a video in March for a customer on Fiverr, a website for freelancers to sell different creative services, such as video production. Source