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

  • Can an Indigenous police force replace RCMP on Wet'suwet'en land? 'Not tomorrow,' Blair says

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- After the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake offered to replace RCMP officers on Wet’suwet’en territory with their own Indigenous peacekeeping force in order to help satisfy one of the main concerns of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said such a solution wouldn’t happen any time soon. Source
  • Canadians find thousands of dollars in unclaimed cheques on CRA website

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- A little known feature on the Canada Revenue Agency’s website is leading people to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in unclaimed government cheques. The recently released tool, found in the My Account portal, allows you to view and collect any cheques you may have missed from the tax agency, dating back as long as you have been filing taxes. Source
  • Calgary police now admit 2 officers used controversial Clearview AI facial-recognition software

    Canada News CBC News
    After previously denying they had used a controversial facial-recognition app that harvested billions of personal photos from social media, Calgary police now say some officers did, in fact, use the Clearview AI software. "The Calgary Police Service does not use Clearview AI in any official capacity," police said in a written statement sent to CBC News on Friday afternoon. Source
  • Best director win for Polanski prompts boos, walkouts at César Awards in France

    World News CBC News
    Roman Polanski, who faces accusations of rape, won France's César Award for best directing for his film An Officer and a Spy on Friday, prompting several actors to walk out of the ceremony in protest. Polanski was not at the event, the biggest night in French cinema's calendar, saying earlier that he feared for his safety. Source
  • See you at the Supreme Court, Ottawa responds, after Alberta demands carbon tax be lifted

    Canada News CBC News
    On Monday, Alberta's top court declared the federal carbon tax unconstitutional. On Wednesday, the province's justice minister demanded that the federal government remove the levy and reimburse what Albertans have already paid. On Friday, the federal government responded: See you in court. Source
  • See you at the Supreme Court, Ottawa says after Alberta demands carbon tax be killed

    Canada News CBC News
    On Monday, Alberta's top court declared the federal carbon tax unconstitutional. On Wednesday, the province's justice minister demanded that the federal government remove the levy and reimburse what Albertans have already paid. On Friday, the federal government responded: See you in court. Source
  • Bundle of joy who can't wait for Mom to get to hospital makes grand entrance in hotel lobby

    Canada News CTV News
    HANWELL, N.B. -- Yesterday's storm brought more than snow and ice as a little bundle of joy wasn't waiting for Mom to make it to the hospital. Staff at a Fredericton-area hotel jumped into action when a guest went into labour. Source
  • Dog found with glue in his ears and legs tied together ‘making a quick turnaround’: vet

    World News CTV News
    TORONTO -- A dog left for dead in an Oklahoma field with his legs strapped together and glue poured into his ears has survived and is making a “quick turnaround,” a veterinarian says. The Humane Society of Tulsa was contacted by local police on Thursday about a mutt that was left stranded with chemical burns on his face and food wrappers shoved into his ears with glue. Source
  • U.S., Taliban set peace signing for America's longest war

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- America's longest war may finally be nearing an end. The United States and the Islamists it toppled from power in Afghanistan are poised to sign a peace deal Saturday after a conflict that outlasted two U.S. Source
  • 'Greta' decal condemned in House of Commons

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- WARNING: The content below may be distressing to readers. A disturbing decal which appeared to use the likeness of 17-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg has been condemned in Canada's House of Commons. Source