BC mistakenly sells health record
The government of British Columbia accidentally auctioned off computer
tapes containing thousands of personal records of members of the public,
including information about medical conditions, social insurance numbers
and dates of birth.
According to a report in the Vancouver Sun, the B.C. government sold off
41 high-capacity data tapes at an auction in Surrey, in 2005, for $300.
The files included the medical status of some B.C. residents – including
whether they have a mental illness, HIV or a substance-abuse problem.
Also included were details of applications for social assistance, and
whether or not people are fit to work.
“This should never happen,” Mary Carlson, director of the Office of the
Information and Privacy Commissioner of B.C., told the Vancouver Sun.
“There are dignity issues involved in a lot of these disclosures,” she
said, pointing to things such as HIV status and a need to apply for
In an interview with the Sun, Labour Minister Mike de Jong, whose
ministry oversees the auction process, said he has ordered an immediate
investigation to determine how the breach took place.
“It is completely unacceptable for information like this to be unsecured
in the way this clearly is,” he said.
“People deserve to know [this] type of information . . . is secure and
kept private,” he added, offering an apology. “I can think of no excuse
for information of this sort finding its way into the public domain. “In
addition to the records containing social insurance numbers and medical
conditions, there were also hundreds of what appeared to be caseworker
entries divulging extremely intimate details of people’s lives.
The files on the tapes appear to have been created between 1995 and 2001
and appear to have come from the Ministry of Human Resources and the
Ministry of Social Services.
The person who bought the reusable tapes says he intended to sell them
as blanks for a profit, and only recently discovered they were filled
with information. He gave the tapes to The Vancouver Sun out of concern
that other information might not be properly destroyed, and did so on
the condition of anonymity.
De Jong could not say exactly what happened, but said there are
standards in place and that he wants to find out immediately what went
wrong.” I want ministry officials to work closely with the privacy
commissioner to do what can be done now to retrieve and secure the
information and also to begin an exhaustive examination of how this
happened,” he said. “There are a strict set of guidelines that are in
place governing the storage of information and also governing the
disposal of assets.”