The USA Patriot Act and its impact on the privacy of Canadians

In response to planned outsourcing by the British Columbia government of certain database administrative duties to a U.S.-linked company, the British Columbia Privacy Commissioner invited public input by August 6, 2004 on the extent to which the USA Patriot Act allows US authorities to access the personal information of British Columbians, and the implications of such access for public body compliance with privacy legislation. CIPPIC's submission concludes that:

  • the USA Patriot Act allows US authorities to obtain records from any US-linked company operating in Canada, on the sole basis that such records related to an investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activity. There is no "reasonable and probable grounds" test for granted such orders, and companies receiving them are subject to gag orders.
  • BC privacy legislation requires that the government make "reasonable security arrangements against such risks as unauthorized access..." when it outsources the administration of personal information databases. Given the vulnerability of private sector companies to USA Patriot Act orders, such security arrangements require that the government avoid outsourcing personal information management to any company with US links. Less restrictive measures, such as contractual restrictions or legislative requirements on private companies to whom data has been outsourced, are unlikely to be effective.
  • the outsourcing issue raised in B.C. is a national issue affecting all governments
  • given the amount of personal information about Canadians already held by private companies with US links, the privacy issues raised by the B.C. Privacy Commissioner are not limited to government outsourcing and should be addressed by all levels of government urgently.
  • The BC Privacy Commissioner issued his report in October 2004, calling for numerous law reform and policy initiatives to better protect Canadians' personal information from unauthorized access by US law enforcement agencies.