Information and Privacy Commissioner Comments on Amendments to the Health Information Act

November 13, 2020

Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton has concerns with some proposed amendments to the Health Information Act (HIA) that if passed as written could increase risks to Albertans’ privacy.

In a letter sent to Minister of Health Tyler Shandro, Clayton described the potential problems posed by certain amendments. Clayton also outlined proposed amendments she supports.

“While many jurisdictions around the world are introducing new or enhanced privacy laws to build public trust and ensure accountability mechanisms are in place to protect personal or health information, many of the proposed amendments to HIA are heading in the other direction,” said Clayton. “Alberta has been considered a leader in health information privacy law and we should aspire to remain that way in the years to come.”

The proposed amendments to HIA are contained in Bill 46, Health Statutes Amendment Act, 2020 (No. 2). Clayton is particularly concerned with proposed amendments that:

  • Expand Netcare access to “authorized users” outside Alberta, without compensating controls to address risks to Albertans’ privacy. Broadening access to Netcare beyond Alberta’s borders may also pose potential jurisdictional challenges to effective oversight and may limit the recourse available to Albertans.
  • Expand the use of health information made available via Netcare. Privacy risks are escalated by proposing to increase the number of users of Netcare and significantly expanding purposes for how health information available via Netcare may be accessed and used. These proposals must include updated and enhanced controls that reasonably mitigate the risks. Transparency is critical in this regard.
  • Eliminate the privacy impact assessment (PIA) requirement for the collection, use and disclosure of health information shared between Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services and the Health Quality Council of Alberta for certain purposes, unless implementing a new information system or making changes to an existing information system. This amendment will significantly reduce transparency and accountability for certain information sharing initiatives.

“I am hopeful that the government will either make amendments to the bill or ideally pause deliberations to allow for further consultation on the implications these proposed amendments have for the protection of Albertans’ health information,” said Clayton.

Despite the concerns raised, Clayton supported some amendments, including a change to the limitation period for offences, removing the “imminence test” for disclosing health information to prevent significant harm, and increasing accountability for researchers to comply with research agreements they have signed with a health custodian.