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Keri Bennett, Roper Greyell LLP

B.C. looking at amending, updating legislation on protection of personal information

Monday, June 08, 2020 @ 8:44 AM | By Ian Burns

Lawmakers in B.C. are undertaking a review of the province’s legislation on protection of personal information, with a view to bring it more in line with modern concerns surrounding sharing of information and privacy.

An all-party committee of the legislature was established in February to seek input from British Columbians on the effectiveness of the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). The Act governs how private sector organizations collect, use and disclose personal information. It also requires organizations to protect and secure personal information against unauthorized use or disclosure, and it grants individuals the right to access their own personal information.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought considerable change to how many of us work and communicate,” said committee chair Rachna Singh. “Our increased reliance on technology makes it an especially appropriate time to review this legislation.”

The Act applies to private-sector employers in British Columbia, while any personal information that crosses provincial borders is covered by the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, also known as PIPEDA. Under the Act, if an organization is collecting personal information it needs to give adequate notice and obtain clear and informed consent. There is also an access regime, where a person has a right to request information about how personal information is handled.

Keri Bennett, Roper Greyell LLP

Keri Bennett, a workplace privacy lawyer at Roper Greyell LLP, said the general principles of the provincial and federal Acts are similar but PIPEDA was amended recently to include a mandatory notification requirement for breaches but PIPA does not have a similar requirement.

“But PIPEDA had actually been amended to include some of the things of PIPA which had been at the time more advanced,” she said. “In B.C. you can collect, use and disclose personal information of employees without consent where reasonable for the purposes of establishing, managing and terminating employment relationships. That provision didn’t exist in PIPEDA until the most recent round of amendments.”

A broader question which has been brought even more forward in context of the COVID-19 pandemic and tracing apps is whether private sector companies should be able to hand personal information to the government or should they have consent to do so, said Bennett.

“What will be interesting is PIPEDA is currently under review as well, and in order for private sector companies to work effectively across the country it is preferable if the regimes are aligned,” she said. “So, it will be interesting to see if the B.C. Act is amended for example to keep up with PIPEDA, and then PIPEDA gets amended again. From the perspective of a private sector entity that is trying to be compliant across the country it is preferable if any amendments are consistent.”

Bennett also said there has been a further debate in privacy spheres about solicitor-client privilege and the scope of the provincial privacy commissioner’s ability to compel privileged documents.

“Our Supreme Court has confirmed that privilege is a fundamental principle of law and that any future amendments to PIPA should be consistent with those principles,” she said.

The committee is holding virtual consultations with stakeholders via videoconference, but individuals are still able to make submissions online. The deadline for all input is Aug. 14. More information can be found here.

The special committee will consider all input and make recommendations to the legislature in a report to be released by February 2021.

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