Privacy Issues over Outdoors Cards raised for second day at Queen’s Park

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Michael Gravelle MPPQUEEN’S PARK – The Minister for Natural Resources Michael Gravelle was under fire for a second day over the issue of privacy of the information on Ontario fishermen and hunters through an agreement that Ontario signed with a company from Tennessee. Laurie Scott continued to grill the Minister on the issue for the second straight day. On Thursday, Kenora MP Sarah Campbell joined in questioning the Minister.

Campbell asked, “Why are Ontarians losing out on jobs because services are being sold off to companies in other countries, all while putting our privacy at risk?”

Minister Gravelle appears willing to defend the agreement, and is confident that the information is secure.

The Minister stated, “We take privacy very, very seriously. I want to be able to say very clearly that the company awarded the contract is contractually obligated to follow Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as part of its agreement with us. The company cannot directly or indirectly use, collect or disclose any personal information for any purposes not authorized by our ministry. They must keep these records secure. They must prevent any loss, misuse, unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration and destruction. The fact is, we are very, very clear in terms of those protections, and we have every confidence that the privacy of Ontarians is secure”.

The Treasury Board of the federal government offers some insight into this issue:

“How is it possible for my personal records to be accessible under the USA PATRIOT Act?

“Today’s information technologies, such as the Internet, make it easy for organizations and individuals to exchange information quickly around the globe. The transfer of information across borders, including personal and sensitive information, is known as “transborder data flow”.

“Transborder data flows are becoming more common as companies and governments take advantage of outsourcing.

“In today’s global economy, suppliers can be located anywhere in the world. Even if a domestic supplier is chosen, it may have offices located in other countries.

“When a supplier is hired to administer personal information and any part of its operations, including subcontractors, are outside of Canada, then the laws of the other country (or countries) may be applicable to information stored or accessible electronically in the foreign country. If a company located in the United States or with U.S. connections is hired, then the USA PATRIOT Act may be applicable”.

Here are the complete exchanges between Scott, Campbell, and Minister Gravelle from the Hansard:

PROTECTION OF PRIVACY

Ms. Laurie Scott: My question is to the Minister of Natural Resources. Minister, yesterday I raised a question regarding the protection of the personal and private information of Ontarians now that this information is being stored in the United States. You stated, “We have built … tough protections into the company’s contract. They cannot disclose any information without prior approval from us.”

It sounds good, but Minister, were you aware that under the terms of the United States Patriot Act, the United States government has the right to access information on Canadians if it is stored in the US or accessible electronically? The Patriot Act supersedes any private contracts. Minister, do you still maintain that the personal information of Ontarians is well protected?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: I do appreciate the question, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond. We take privacy very, very seriously. I want to be able to say very clearly that the company awarded the contract is contractually obligated to follow Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as part of its agreement with us. The company cannot directly or indirectly use, collect or disclose any personal information for any purposes not authorized by our ministry. They must keep these records secure. They must prevent any loss, misuse, unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration and destruction. The fact is, we are very, very clear in terms of those protections, and we have every confidence that the privacy of Ontarians is secure.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Laurie Scott: My question was about United States laws, not the company’s. According to your own ministry, 730,000 licences have been processed by Active Outdoors in Tennessee; 730,000 Ontarians have now had their personal information shipped to the United States, and it can be accessed by the US government.

In light of the provisions of the United States’ Patriot Act, do you now agree that your ministry may be responsible for a serious and major breach of privacy protection for Ontario citizens?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: Mr. Speaker, we are very, very confident that the privacy of Ontarians is secure based upon the contractual agreement we came to with the company that was awarded the contract. I’ll repeat what I said. The obligations are very clear. They agreed to it. They signed off on it. They need to keep the records secure. They need to prevent any loss, any misuse, any unauthorized access, any disclosure, alteration or destruction of the records themselves. They cannot directly or indirectly use, collect or disclose any personal information—

Interjection.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member has reached the point where he is now warned—the member from Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke.

Finish, please.

Hon. Michael Gravelle: Mr. Speaker, may I say to all the members of the Legislature, we are very confident that the privacy of Ontarians who are using that system is indeed secure. That is something that’s an absolute priority for us. It will follow the freedom of information, privacy and protection act.

Ms. Sarah Campbell: Thank you, Speaker. My question is to the Minister of Natural Resources. About a month ago, I asked the Minister of Natural Resources why he decided to take jobs out of Ontario and outsource them to Tennessee. The answer to that question was not satisfactory.

Since that time, people across the province have raised serious concerns relating to the privacy of information that is collected and stored in the United States and subject to their privacy laws. This morning, I shared those concerns with the privacy commissioner and have urged an investigation.

Why are Ontarians losing out on jobs because services are being sold off to companies in other countries, all while putting our privacy at risk?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: Again, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the situation. The fact is that the contract was awarded in a fair and competitive procurement process to a company in Tennessee to help us automate a system to provide licences to anglers and hunters in a more efficient and faster way and a way, that allows them to access it from their home, from ServiceOntario centres, from a number of issuers.

In terms of the privacy issue, again, I want to provide real assurance that the company that was awarded the contract is contractually obligated to follow Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. They cannot in any way, directly or indirectly, use, collect or disclose any personal information. The fact is, if indeed the privacy commissioner chooses to investigate this or look into this, we will welcome, obviously, the comments of the privacy commissioner, but we feel very confident that the privacy of Ontarians is secure.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Supplementary?

Ms. Sarah Campbell: There’s close to 600,000 people out of work in this province, and now more jobs that could very well be performed by people in this province as a public service have been outsourced to the United States for profit. Ontarians have to call a number in Tennessee to get their Outdoors Card, fishing licence, and to report their wild turkey hunt. Even the moose tag draw happens in Tennessee.

Given the fact that we’ve had many complaints about the moose tag draw, Minister, do you think the fact that this draw happens in Tennessee will increase their confidence?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: The fact is that the Outdoors Card centre is still in Peterborough. Our Ministry of Natural Resources people are still in charge of that process. They’re still doing that. The company in Tennessee that was awarded that contract is working, in terms of the vendors and the machines, to help make the licensing process run in a more efficient fashion. There are by no means significant jobs attached to that We are still very much in control of the Outdoors centre and our MNR offices in Peterborough.

The fact is that, indeed, we’ve got 730,000 licences that have been issued. We are very, very pleased about the fact that, now, a system is in place that is going to be easier and more efficient for people to access and get their cards. Indeed, I do not think those concerns are warranted.

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