Ontario’s privacy czar frustrated by lack of progress on EHR

In her annual report for 2007 released Wednesday, Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian urged the province to make a privacy-protective e-health record a priority.

“In terms of the top five provinces that Canada Health Infoway has identified as the ones that will have an e-health record up and running over the next few years, we’re not among the five,” she said in an interview with InterGovWorld.com.

Cavoukian said that last year there was a survey in which Ontario was just above the bottom, “We were only ahead of Nunavut in terms of the development of our EHR, and that’s appalling.”

She added that the Ontario Health Quality Council recently issued a report in which they said that because of the government’s slow progress in establishing an EHR, that people in Ontario were at risk and needlessly dying.

“So we’re certainly not the lone voice asking, ‘Where’s the EHR, why hasn’t it been made a priority, and when are we going to see it up and running?'”, added Cavoukian. “I’ve received no answers to those questions from the government; they say ‘We’re working on it'”.

She added that ‘we’re working on it’ is not an acceptable answer anymore, “They’ve been working on it for years, millions have been expended, what’s Smart Systems for Health doing? They’re the ones who are supposed to be providing the infrastructure, and they have a very generous budget.”

Cavoukian is also urging Premier Dalton McGuinty and Minister of Research John Wilkinson to advance the development of “transformative” technologies.

“This is a new term (transformative technologies) that’s we’ve developed, and is the latest edition of privacy enhancing technology,” she explained.

“When you take privacy-enhancing technologies and apply them to technologies of surveillance, such as surveillance cameras, you in effect have the ability to transform the privacy invasive nature of that surveillance technology into a privacy-protective one.”

She added it removes the threat of privacy invasiveness from a surveillance technology and transforms it into something that the public can live with, for example when a crime is committed and the video surveillance camera needs to be accessed to get the footage.

“In our TTC report we highlight this transformative technology that allows video surveillance cameras to continue but absent the decryption key all you would see is the background footage, you wouldn’t see any identifiable people on the footage unless you could decrypt it.”

She explained that in order for the footage to be decrypted, there would have to be a crime that’s occurred, and the IPC office would require dual sign-off from the police requesting access to the footage, and one of those two would have to be the police chief.

“In addition we’ve said we want an annual third party audit using GAPP (generally accepted privacy principles), that have been developed by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants – that’s pretty strong.”

Also included in Cavoukian’s recommendations is for the federal government to make citizenship information available to provinces that want to provide an enhanced drivers’ licence (EDL) that citizens could use as an alternative to a passport for crossing the U.S. border.

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