Commissioner Launches Privacy Breach Investigations

January 23, 2014

Today, Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton has confirmed that she will launch an investigation into the recently reported Medicentres privacy breach, as well as a broader review of the way privacy breaches are reported in the health sector in this province.

Commissioner Clayton released the following statement:

“This incident raises concerns about how privacy breaches are reported generally. Therefore, in addition to the Medicentres investigation, we will also be conducting a thorough review of the broader issue of privacy breach reporting by the health sector in Alberta.

“The Minister has encouraged individuals who have been personally affected by this breach to file complaints with my office and I would like to reinforce that message. I would also like to address the recent questions raised about why the information was not released to the public sooner.

“Currently, there are no provisions under Alberta’s Health Information Act (HIA) requiring a health custodian to report a breach to my Office or notify affected individuals. When we do receive reports of this nature, it is done on a voluntary basis. Decisions about when and if affected individuals will be notified of a breach are the responsibility of the custodian. I have no authority to require custodians to notify affected individuals.

“When a custodian self-reports a breach to the OIPC, we work with them to assess the potential risk and make recommendations about how to respond to the breach and prevent a similar incident in the future. When there is the potential for harm to individuals, it is always our practice to recommend immediate, direct notification to all affected parties.

“In terms of reporting these incidents to the public or the Government of Alberta, I have no authority to do so. Section 91(1) of the Health Information Act (HIA) prohibits me from releasing any information obtained in performing my duties, powers, and functions under the Act.

“Under Alberta’s private sector privacy law, the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), organizations must report a breach of personal information to my Office where they determine there is a real risk of significant harm to an individual. In such a case, I can require the organization to notify affected individuals.

“I have advocated in the past for mandatory breach reporting and notification provisions to be added to the FOIP Act, most recently in my submissions to the FOIP Act review. This case is an important reminder of the need for these types of provisions in the Health Information Act as well and I will be formally asking the government to consider such an amendment. The extension of the mandatory breach notification to the public and health sectors will strengthen the protection of privacy legislation in Alberta.