USA Patriot Act comes under fire in B.C. report

USA Patriot Act violates B.C.'s privacy laws because it can order U.S. companies to secretly hand over information on BCers, says report

The USA Patriot Act violates British Columbia's privacy laws because it can order American companies to hand over information on British Columbians in secret, B.C. Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis said Friday.

In a report on the privacy implications of the Patriot Act, Loukidelis notes that once information is sent across borders, it's difficult, if not impossible, to control.

The 151-page report states that under the Patriot Act, the U.S. government can demand access to a wide range of personal and confidential information about Canadians from U.S. financial institutions, phone companies and internet providers.

"It is never possible to guarantee perfect protection of information. Regardless, our report concludes that measures can and should be put in place that meaningfully guard against access by the USA Patriot Act," said Loukidelis.

One important recommendation is to have Ottawa and the provinces pass legislation that will "prohibit personal information from being stored or sent outside Canada."

Loukidelis would also like to make it illegal for Canadian subsidiaries of U.S. firms to turn over information to a U.S. agency without a Canadian court order.

Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Ontario employ U.S.–based companies to manage provincial government databases.

The B.C. government has contracted out some business to one U.S. firm and wants to use another American company to operate the province's Medical Services Plan.

CIBC credit card holders in Canada sign an agreement that allows personal information about them to be viewed by U.S. authorities, the report said.

The privacy commissioner began his investigation earlier this year after concerns were raised about the effect of the Patriot Act on the privacy rights of British Columbians.

This month the B.C. government passed a law to prevent the U.S. from examining information on British Columbians that is in the possession of private U.S. companies.

Those that break that law risk fines from $2,000 for individuals and $500,000 for corporations.

The Patriot Act was enacted following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It allows the U.S. government to review information on private and public businesses in an effort to hunt down terrorists.