Order enables broader use of tech in COVID-19 response

THE B.C. government says the protection of privacy is a top priority for it, and so is protecting the health and safety of British Columbians during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

A new ministerial order under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) enables the broader use of communications tools for health-care workers and other public-sector staff who are responding to the COVID-19 state of emergency. This order supports the people working on the front lines to protect the health and safety of British Columbians by ensuring they have access to vital software and technology that can help in this fight.

The health and safety measures that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has put in place throughout the province mean that:

* K-12 schools are taking extended spring breaks and post-secondary institutions are moving in-person lectures to online platforms.

* thousands of British Columbians are now staying at home with their loved ones and working remotely.

* most importantly, doctors, nurses, first responders and other front-line health-care providers are in urgent need of tools that will help them improve their ability to share information quickly and respond effectively to emerging needs.

The public-health emergency has made it necessary for government to temporarily enable the use of technologies that would otherwise be restricted under FOIPPA’s current rules. The global pandemic has changed how the Province, health-care providers and organizations in the broader public sector are working. It has affected the way they need to deliver the services and supports that British Columbians count on.

British Columbia has the strictest privacy and data-residency laws in Canada. It is one of only two Canadian provinces with legislation requiring the personal information of its citizens to be stored in and only accessed from within Canada. The ministerial order temporarily permits health-care bodies like the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, and health authorities to use communication and collaboration software that may host information outside of Canada. The order also enables B.C. schools and post-secondary institutions to provide online learning for students who have been displaced due to the need for physical distancing.

The ministerial order is in effect until June 30, 2020. The Province will work with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner on or before this date to either rescind or renew the order, depending on the pandemic landscape at that time.

Quick Facts:

FOIPPA makes public bodies more accountable to the public and protects personal privacy by:

* giving the public a right of access to records;

* giving individuals a right of access to, and a right to request correction of, personal information about themselves;

* specifying limited exceptions to the rights of access;

* preventing the unauthorized collection, use or disclosure of personal information by public bodies; and

* providing for an independent review of decisions made under this act.

The act does not replace other procedures for access to information or in any way limit access to information that is not personal information and is available to the public.