Alberta laptop privacy breach prompts investigation

Alberta privacy commissioner Jill Clayton is launching an investigation into the theft of an unencrypted laptop containing the personal health information of 620,000 Albertans

Provincial law prevents privacy commissioner from making breaches public

Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton says she's concerned that health information of 620,000 Albertans was kept on an unencrypted laptop. (CBC)

Alberta privacy commissioner Jill Clayton is launching an investigation into the theft of an unencrypted laptop containing the personal health information of 620,000 Albertans.

Yesterday Health Minister Fred Horne revealed that a laptop containing information including names, birth dates, health card numbers and billing codes had been stolen in September.The laptop belonged to a Medicentres IT consultant in Edmonton. 

“I’m concerned about this," Clayton said a news conference on Thursday. "I’m not happy at all that an incident like this has occurred and that so many Albertans have been affected.”

Clayton's probe will also include a wider review of how privacy breaches are reported in Alberta. Although the theft occurred in September, Horne was not informed about the breach until Tuesday. 

The minister said he was "outraged" by the delay. 

Clayton's office learned about the breach in October, but is barred from releasing the information to the government or those whose personal information is put at risk. 

“The simple answer to that is that I have no ability under the Health Information Act to report this incident to the minister," she said. "In fact, I am prohibited from disclosing that kind of information outside of an investigation.”

Clayton is asking people who have been affected to file complaints with her office.

Although Clayton can't say how long are report will take, she has freed up an investigator to complete the probe as soon as possible. 

In a statement, Horne said that he was pleased that the matter will be investigated. He say he's confident that the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices will want to follow up with Clayton on restrictions within current privacy laws. 

Opposition MLAs say that changes have to be made. 

"I think it's important for us to legislate tougher penalties for any breach of private health information, personal information, that takes place in our health system," NDP health critic David Eggen said. 

The Wildrose is calling on everyone who believes they were affected to get involved. 

"They should all contact the office of the privacy commissioner and let her know that their information has been breached or stolen," Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson said. "And hopefully it's not being sold for nefarious purposes at this point."

The laptop contained the names, dates of birth, provincial health card numbers, billing codes and diagnostic codes of the individuals seen at Medicentres between May 2, 2011, and Sept. 10, 2013. The computer was stolen on Sept. 26.