Recent outsourcing deals by the B.C. government to American providers have raised the spectre of citizen privacy, particularly in light of the U.S.A. Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act gives the government of the United States unparalleled powers to investigate private citizens in the name of fighting
terrorism. With the government of B.C. outsourcing management of the Medical Services Plan to Maximus and now revenue management to EDS, concerns are being raised that sensitive information belonging to Canadians could end up going south. The EDS deal was announced in late November.
B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner, David Loukidelis, released a report addressing the implications of this issue.
He said in a statement, “”Our review of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the outsourcing of public services has caused us to confront the most challenging and important privacy issues my office has faced since I took this job just over five years ago.””
In his report, the commissioner outlined 16 recommendations, one of them calling for tougher legislation when it comes to a public body or contractor disclosing personal information. Another calls for public bodies to incorporate privacy provisions into outsourcing contracts.
The government of B.C. maintains it has met its obligations with respect to the privacy of its citizens, and that outsourced contracts to American providers and otherwise are not a threat.
“”If you’re required to keep data in Canada, you cannot move it temporarily or permanently outside the country or access it from outside,”” said a spokesperson from the Ministry of Management Services, the provincial body that oversees contracts and purchasing. The spokesperson asked not to be identified. “”It’s not that the U.S.A. Patriot Act wouldn’t apply, but it doesn’t apply outside the country.””
As part of EDS’s contract requirements with the B.C. government, it has established a Victoria-based subsidiary called EDS Advanced Solutions Inc. This company is responsible for fulfilling the contract, which could be expanded to a potential $572 million.
EDS Advanced Solutions will manage non-tax receivables for the Ministry of Provincial Revenue including billing, customer service, account management, payment processing (cheque processing), and remittance processing to ensure that payment is recorded.
Province retains control
As part of its contract with the government, EDS has acknowledged that the province retains control and ownership of personal information, all directors of EDS Advanced Solutions must be Canadian citizens and the province has “”step-in rights under a power of attorney which may be exercised in the event of an anticipated privacy breach.””
“”The Patriot Act, and privacy in particular, has been kind of at the forefront on the process ever since we’ve been engaged,”” said Owen Taylor, EDS’s vice-president of client relations. “”There’s a lot of specific parameters within the contract to ensure that the privacy of British Columbia citizens is very much protected.””
George Hayman, president of the B.C. Government Employees’ Union, isn’t satisfied with the result.
“”The government should rethink this and not go ahead with these contracts,”” he said. “”Instead they’re misleading British Columbians. They’re saying they’ve met all the recommendations of the privacy commissioner and gone beyond them. That’s simply not true.””
Hayman was also vocal in his opposition to the government’s contract with Maximus.
The B.C. government plans to outsource additional technology and administrative functions. On Nov. 10, it outsourced its payroll management system to Telus Sourcing Solutions, a division of the B.C. telco giant, for $133 million over 10 years. In addition, plans are underway to outsource the delivery and service of desktop PCs to a provider that has yet to be named.
Threats to privacy as a result of outsourcing have been overstated, said the spokesperson for the Ministry of Management Services. Information-sharing agreements between the FBI and RCMP have been in place for some time, according to the spokesperson.
“”The secretive nature of the U.S.A. Patriot Act has got people spun up.””