British Columbia

'Only collect what's necessary,' says privacy commissioner on contact tracing

B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy says information that is collected for the purposes of contact tracing for COVID-19 should be properly secured and used only for that purpose.

Restaurants have been asked to collect contact information for one person from each party

B.C.'s public health officials will use contact tracing in an attempt to identify every individual an infected person may have come in contact with, which will help show how far the disease has spread, or where it may have started. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner says businesses asked to collect information to assist with COVID-19 contact tracing must make sure the information is properly secured and used only for that express purpose. 

As the province begins the process of opening up, public health officials have put in new ordinances to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and help with the process of contact tracing. 

Public health officials will use contact tracing in an attempt to identify every individual an infected person may have come in contact with, which will help show how far the disease has spread, or where it may have started.

For example, restaurants have been asked to "retain contact information for one member of every party of patrons for 30 days in the event that there is a need for contact tracing on the part of the medical health officer."  

In response to concerns around privacy and data collection, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said public health officials wouldn't access that information unless it was absolutely necessary.

"Our paramount concern ... is maintaining people's personal confidentiality," Henry said. 

Restaurants are starting to open up this week under new regulations set out by WorkSafeBC and the public health office. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Michael McEvoy, B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner, says this is a permissible request under the province's privacy legislation, as long as businesses stick to some basic guidelines.

"Really, it's important that you only collect what's necessary," McEvoy said.

He also stressed the importance for businesses to adequately store that data in a secure location.

"If it's put on a computer database, then there's proper passwords and it is protected," he said. 

The information must be used only for the purpose of following up by the public health officer.

"In other words, you can't use it to market your restaurant or sell it to a third party," he said.

In addition, the information must be properly destroyed after the 30-day limit.

McEvoy said they'll be keeping an eye on how this information is used, and will investigate if there are any complaints.

For the most part, however, he says businesses want to do the right thing.

"It's not an either-or thing. This is not a matter of it's either public safety or protecting your personal information. When done right, both of those things can work together."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from B.C. Today

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now