Attack against privacy watchdog is a shallow, partisan distraction attempt

It’s understandable that Liberal Party pundit Warren Kinsella simply wants the media to stop talking about the controversial scrapped gas plants and government deletion of emails under Liberal supervision. But to attack Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian as a “megalomanic” that is “egotistical and reckless” is an unfair attempt to divert attention away from the real issue at hand.

Kinsella made those comments in a July 25 blog post about an interview with the commissioner on Ottawa radio station CFRA, in which she says she didn’t do a good enough job in her investigation into deleted emails. He previously accused Cavoukian of being politically motivated in a July 11 blog post about the same investigation.

He’s been equally aggressive in his criticism on Twitter.

Kinsella’s complaints about political partisanship sound hollow in light of his own transparently partisan stance. The premise that Cavoukian is some sort of limelight seeking right-winger is thin or non-existent. As one comment on Kinsella’s blog points out, would a “megalomaniac” say they could have done a better job?

He’s trying to turn the tables and put the blame on Cavoukian for a mess the Liberals have created for themselves. Too bad for him that Cavoukian has a commendable track record as privacy commissioner while government bodies have continually demonstrated incompetence in dealing with sensitive data and proper handling of information.

Kinsella blames Cavoukian for unfairly probing Liberal bureaucrats over deleted emails relating to the cancellation of a gas power plant in Oakville and Mississauga prior to the 2011 provincial election.

In fact, Cavoukian was responding to a complaint by NDP MPP Peter Tabuns about the lack of electronic records surround the power plant closures. If Liberals had deleted emails related to the issue, it would violate the Archives and Recordkeeping Act. If Cavoukian isn’t going to hold the Liberals to account, then who will?

It was Liberal staffers who described the emails as unrecoverable at first. The probing by the commissioner’s office has led to the recovery of some e-mails, in spite of uncooperative bureaucrats who didn’t fully explore all the archives they were requested to.

It’s no wonder Cavoukian has little patience for a slack attitude on the part of public officers and has used some harsh language. Data breaches of personal information have become the norm in the past several years in Ontario. Here’s a list of a few of the incidents that the privacy commissioner had to respond to:

  • July 2012: Elections Ontario lost two USB drives containing unencrypted data of more than 2 million voters.
  • July 2011: Cancer Care Ontario reports that it had lost 6,500 patient records in the mail earlier that year and was unable to locate an additional 5,440 records.
  • December 2009: Durham Regional Health loses a USB key containing personal information of 85,000 immunization recipients.

Cavoukian is currently serving her third term as commissioner. She’s the only person to be appointed to the role for three consecutive terms, but the Liberals clearly thought she deserved to continue in her position. Too bad that they have turned on her now as her work requires that she investigate a scandal that they’d rather see disappear.

My feature story published yesterday details how Cavoukian’s work on Privacy by Design has been adopted by her peers as an international best practice and is changing the way software is developed by huge firms like IBM and Oracle. Her work is commendable and Kinsella’s choice to attack her in a bid to create a partisan smoke screen is the real “bloody disgrace.”

Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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