Amendments strengthen access to information, protect people’s privacy

THE Province announced on Monday that it 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.”

The Province said it 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.


Quick Facts:

* 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.