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

  • Husband of Spain's princess avoids jail while awaiting appeal

    World News CTV News
    MADRID -- The brother-in-law of Spain's King Felipe will avoid imprisonment but must show up in court in Switzerland, where he lives, once per month while he waits for the Supreme Court to rule on an appeal to a fraud and tax evasion guilty verdict. Source
  • Pakistani official: Explosion kills 8 in city of Lahore

    World News CTV News
    LAHORE, Pakistan -- Explosives in a building under construction ignited Thursday, ripping through a market in an upscale neighbourhood in the eastern city of Lahore, killing eight people, officials said. It was not immediately clear whether the explosives were meant to be a bomb or were merely stored in the building. Source
  • Winning numbers drawn for $435-million Powerball jackpot

    World News CTV News
    DES MOINES, Iowa -- The winning Powerball numbers have been drawn for the jackpot that's climbed above $400 million for the first time in nearly three months. The numbers are 10-13-28-52-61 and Powerball 2. Source
  • 'These Percs have destroyed Kanata': Teen talks about deadly counterfeit drugs [Video]

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Cole Nicholls reaches down and picks up a pebble on the carpet when asked the question: Why are counterfeit pharmaceuticals so dangerous? Many parents in Ottawa are looking for the answer to that question after a 14-year-old Kanata girl, Chloe Kotval, died on Feb. Source
  • Children's author's partner jailed 34 years for her murder

    World News CTV News
    LONDON -- The partner of children's author Helen Bailey has been sentenced to at least 34 years in prison for murdering her and dumping her body in a cesspool at their home. Judge Andrew Bright told Ian Stewart it was "difficult to imagine a more heinous crime. Source
  • Grandfather wanted custody of toddler who died in care, fatality inquiry hears

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    A provincial court judge says she doesn't understand why the grandfather of a toddler who died in foster care wasn't given a chance to take custody. "I just don't understand why the grandfather wasn't considered," said Judge Ferne LeReverend in an Edmonton courtroom Wednesday. Source
  • Ontario police to reveal details of guns and drugs probe

    Canada News CTV News
    VAUGHAN, Ont. - Police say they'll be giving details of a lengthy drugs and guns investigation at news conference today in Vaughan, Ont. Ontario Provincial Police say the international investigation involved the distribution of drugs and firearms. Source
  • Officials plead with last Standing Rock protesters to leave

    World News CBC News
    Public officials in North Dakota pleaded with the remaining protesters at the Dakota Access oil pipeline camp to pack up and leave so authorities can resume cleaning up the premises without any further arrests. Most of the campers marched out of the area ahead of Wednesday's 2 p.m. Source
  • Mexican foreign minister slams Trump's deportation policy ahead of meeting

    World News CTV News
    MEXICO CITY - Mexico's mounting unease and resentment over U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown are looming over a gathering of U.S. and Mexican leaders that the U.S. had hoped would project a strong future for relations between neighbours. Source
  • Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor charged with sexual assault

    World News CTV News
    LANSING, Mich. - A Michigan sports doctor who treated elite female U.S. gymnasts was charged Wednesday with sexually assaulting nine girls, including some too reluctant to speak up about the alleged abuse years ago because he was considered a "god. Source