Ontario's privacy chief has reported record-breaking numbers of privacy complaints against health-care and public sector organizations last year. But at least one Canadian analyst is not ready to cast the first stone against these institutions.
Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian has disclosed in her Annual Report that the number of privacy complaints filed under public sector privacy laws has reached 170 in 2006, the highest in the past nine years.
Similarly, privacy-related complaints under the Personal Health Information Protection Act reached 183 in 2006, also a record high.
The high numbers, however, are likely due to the increasing volume of digital information being created today, rather than a shortcoming on the part of the government, according to James Sharp , vice-president of customer segments research at IDC Canada Ltd.
"I really think it's just the sum total of the number of transactions and the amount of management that is causing incremental leakage of personal and private data," says Sharp. And the probability of more data leakage increases as the world's creation of digital data accumulates, he adds.
IDC earlier revealed a study that showed an impending information overload in the digital realm. The study indicated that the amount of digital information that will be created globally between 2006 and 2010 will increase from 161 exabytes to 988 exabytes. One exabyte is equivalent to about one billion gigabytes.
It is therefore inevitable that as more information becomes digitized, the likelihood of those data being subjected to unauthorized exposure becomes greater, says Sharp. The key is in assessing the threat and the risks of such data leakages, he adds.
"The biggest issue isn't just amassing the data, but its appropriate disclosure. As we amass more and more information, two things are going to happen: one, we will have more information leaks , and two, we are going to have a much more focused effort on continuing to create compensating controls around those privacy losses," says the analyst.
The issues around privacy protection are even more challenging in the health-care sector, adds Sharp, particularly as provinces move towards regionalized health care .