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Province of BC: Amendments strengthen access to information, protect people’s privacy
VICTORIA – British Columbia is taking important steps to strengthen B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) to deliver better, more inclusive services to people, businesses and public-sector organizations.
“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we live, work, connect with loved ones and access the services we need. Today, people can safely talk to their doctor via Zoom, learn online and do business faster,” said Lisa Beare, Minister of Citizens’ Services. “These amendments help people continue to access the services they need faster, while ensuring their privacy is protected. We’re making changes today to keep pace with advancements in technology and provide the level of service that people expect in the digital era.”
With input from thousands of people, businesses, Indigenous communities and public bodies, proposed changes to FOIPPA will help B.C. keep pace with new technology, strengthen privacy protections and improve services for thousands of people who request information each year.
Highlights of the proposed amendments include:
- updating FOIPPA’s data-residency provisions so public bodies can use modern tools while continuing to protect personal information;
- enhancing public-sector privacy protections and increasing accountability by implementing mandatory privacy-breach reporting;
- introducing a modest application fee for non-personal freedom of information (FOI) requests; and
- demonstrating the Province’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, reconciliation and equity by increasing information sharing with Indigenous Peoples, adding Indigenous cultural protections and removing non-inclusive language.
Data-residency requirement changes will bring B.C. in line with other jurisdictions by removing restrictions that prevent access to digital tools and technologies. These changes will increase access to technologies and streamline service delivery for public bodies. For example, greater access to cloud-based services will improve B.C.’s post-secondary institutions’ ability to attract students by allowing them to use cloud-based education tools offered outside of B.C.
“This is a positive development from government that B.C.’s tech industry welcomes,” said Jill Tipping, president and CEO, BC Tech Association. “The changes to B.C.’s data residency requirements will allow local companies to leverage cutting-edge technology to help B.C.’s public sector deliver the modern tools that citizens expect with the privacy protections they need.”
“UBC welcomes these proposed amendments. They will substantially increase the privacy and security of personal data with more robust and resilient services by allowing us to select the most secure and effective solutions,” said Jennifer Burns, associate vice-president, information technology and chief information officer, University of British Columbia. “We appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with government on changes that will boost the competitiveness and efficiency of B.C. post-secondary institutions while helping protect our students, faculty and staff.”
B.C. is strengthening privacy protection through added privacy-protection controls to safeguard people’s information, while remaining transparent and accountable. Enhancements to mandatory breach reporting require privacy management programs and clarify requirements for public bodies’ privacy impact assessments, while proposed amendments will increase penalties for offences under the act and introduce new penalties, such as for knowingly accessing information without authorization.
“As an organization that values innovation in order to maintain the highest level of care to patients, Vancouver Coastal Health welcomes improvements made to the data residency requirements within the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” said Steven Tam, general counsel and chief privacy officer, Vancouver Coastal Health. “These changes not only provide more flexibility and opportunity to implement the best available technologies to improve health-care services, but they also enable us to access the most robust technology solutions to secure sensitive health-care data and protect patient privacy.”
Proposed amendments also reflect the Province’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, reconciliation and equity by increasing information sharing with Indigenous Peoples, adding cultural protections and removing non-inclusive language, which aligns with B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. The act has also been reviewed through a critical, gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) lens to make the act more inclusive and equitable.
Jazz Pabla, information services director, City of Kelowna –
“Local governments are being asked to deliver services effectively and efficiently with the best citizen experience possible. With changes to the data residency policy, this will allow organizations to meet the need of our customers while still protecting our digital assets.”
Kelly Pollack, executive director, Focused Education Resources –
“Focused Education Resources recognizes the learning environment is moving more online each year. These changes to the data residency requirement will increase access to learning resources and give educators more ability to customize learning in their classroom for students, while still protecting students’ and educators’ personal information.”
- Introduced in 1993, FOIPPA applies to more than 2,900 public bodies in B.C. and keeps government accountable to the public and protects the privacy of British Columbians.
- Apart from minor amendments in 2019, FOIPPA has not substantially changed since 2011.
- The Province processes more than 10,000 FOI requests annually, with the volume of requests increasing by more than 40% over a two-year period, reaching an all-time high of more than 13,000 requests in 2019-20 (13,055).
- The average cost to government for processing a single FOI request is $3,000, though some large, complex requests can exceed this. Fees to produce records are collected in fewer than 2% of FOI requests.
- Approximately, 40% of requests are for personal records, which people are not charged for. The proposed amendments will not change this.
For more information on FOIPPA, including sections of the act in categories about freedom of information, protection of privacy and the powers of the information and privacy commissioner, visit:
A backgrounder follows.
Ministry of Citizens’ Services
Government Communications and Public
Extensive consultation informs information access, privacy protection amendments
Thousands of people, businesses, Indigenous leaders and organizations, and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) provided valuable input into proposed amendments to B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA). The Province also received recommendations from two all-party special committees of the legislative assembly.
Consultations through 2017-19 helped identify and understand stakeholder concerns and priorities. Between April and August 2021, the Ministry of Citizens’ Services engaged with stakeholder groups to confirm previous input and present proposed improvements based on their feedback, including gaining an understanding of how potential changes may affect their organizations. Participants included B.C. public-sector bodies, provincial government ministries, Indigenous groups, the B.C. tech sector, and the public. Feedback was also received through roundtable meetings and presentations in the broader public sector, such as post-secondary institutions, local governments and health authorities.
From June 15 to July 15, 2021, a govTogetherBC survey asked people how, or if, their thoughts on access to government information and the protection of privacy have changed with the pandemic’s shift to more government services being delivered online. The questions focused on how individuals access information, data residency, the freedom of information process, reporting privacy breaches, and offences and penalties. More than 1,700 individuals responded.
Engagement with Indigenous leaders and communities to better understand how reconciliation efforts can be supported through improved access to information and privacy was a priority. This work continues and has included meetings with Indigenous organizations, discussions with Treaty First Nations representatives, and a 2021 questionnaire sent to more than 200 First Nations leaders in communities throughout the province. This builds on similar engagement with Indigenous community leaders and Treaty First Nations in winter 2018-19.
Proposed amendments were also informed through more than a dozen meetings with the OIPC between April and August 2021.
A summary of the 2021 engagement, including public surveys, is available online:
Ministry of Citizens’ Services
Government Communications and Public
Connect with the Province of B.C. at: news.gov.bc.ca/connect
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