Civic employees and police officers could be fined or imprisoned for snooping under changes to Saskatchewan privacy laws that come into effect on Jan. 1.

The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act has been amended to include punishments for employees who access personal records for inappropriate reasons.

Anyone who breaks the law could be fined up to $50,000 or imprisoned for up to one year, or both.

Law applies to local government, police

The updated legislation will apply to employees of local authorities and information services, which includes local governments and city police services.

The Regina Police Service said in a statement that employees already take an oath of secrecy but they have received additional training ahead of the new legislation.

"All of us know, every day, the consequences of inappropriately accessing any information," said the statement.

"Breaches don't happen often, but when they do the consequences are swift and serious."

Similar law for provincial health workers

A similar law already applies to provincial health workers, who would face the same punishments if convicted of an offence. Stronger privacy measures were introduced after a member of the public found thousands of medical records in a Regina dumpster in 2012.

The amendments to the Health Information Protection Act (HIPA) came into effect on June 1, 2016.  

At least two cases of snooping in the province were made public last year. A 2016 report by the Saskatchewan privacy and information commissioner revealed that a Regina hospital worker looked up sensitive records of an ex-spouse and 34 other people.  

In March last year, a technologist was fired from her job at the Heartland Regional Health Authority for snooping on more than 900 patient records.

The updated legislation for local authorities will also make municipal police forces subject to freedom of information requests.