Health info on Canadians going to FBI: ACLU

Canadian trade unions are joining the long list of groups angry at the US Patriot Act, the package of stiff anti-terror measures introduced after the 11 September attacks.

    Canada and the US appear set to hit another diplomatic block

    The law's long reach is on a collision course for the first time with Canadian privacy legislation, and the clash could cost US firms millions of dollars in lost business.

    The Act permits the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to demand companies secretly turn over information that may be relevant to their investigations.

    But the government employees union in British Columbia, Canada's western-most province, believes those powers could be used to access private details of Canadians held in databases managed by American companies or Canadian subsidiaries.

    That would contravene Canadian privacy laws that strictly regulate access and disclosure of private information.

    "We've never been up against anything like this," said Mary Carlson, director of policy and compliance for the British

    Columbia Information and Privacy Commissioners office.

    "There is a real concern here and until this is ironed out, no privatisation should proceed and anything to do with personal information should remain in government hands"

    George Heyman,
    Union President


    The province's Government and Service Employees' Union is suing the government to stop the planned outsourcing of the province's publicly-funded health plan administration to one of two American companies IBM and Maximus.

    The complaint cites a legal opinion obtained from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which states private information on Canadians could end up in the hands of the FBI.

    Health plan records include health and mental health records, drug prescriptions, and in some cases social benefits or criminal records, said Union President George Heyman.

    "There is a real concern here and until this is ironed out, no privatisation should proceed and anything to do with personal information should remain in government hands," he said.

    The case has prompted a countrywide review of government outsourcing, which has risen in the past decade to cut costs, as well as closer scrutiny of government contracts to determine the extent of their possible exposure.

    'Far reaching consequences'

    But the provincial government is downplaying its impact, suggesting it may be able to tweak contracts to safeguard citizens' information. However it concedes that if the union accusations are true, the consequences would be far reaching.

    The Canada/US border is the
    world's largest unproteced border

    US firms could be barred from bidding on Canadian government contracts, though this outcome is not likely achievable under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

    Alternately, provincial governments across Canada could be forced to rethink their outsourcing plans and cancel thousands of contracts already awarded - which would amount to a blow worth millions of dollars to US firms.

    "We're seeking the best possible legal advice and we'll act on it. We will make sure that information is protected," said Joyce Murray, the British Columbia minister charged with overseeing government outsourcing.

    If that means reviewing contracts that have already been negotiated or that are under negotiation, we'll do that," said Murray.

    The ACLU challenged the act on constitutional grounds last summer, but a decision on the case is still pending.

    The act was supposed to expire next year, but US President George Bush recently proposed extending it and parts of it are showing up in other American legislation, said ACLU legal counsel Timothy Edgar in Washington DC.

    SOURCE: Agencies


    Why some African Americans are moving to Africa

    Escaping systemic racism: Why I quit New York for Accra

    African-Americans are returning to the lands of their ancestors as life becomes precarious and dangerous in the USA.

    Why Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel

    Why Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel

    No country in the world recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

    US: Muslims to become second-largest religious group

    US: Muslims to become second-largest religious group

    By 2050 the number of Muslims is projected to reach 8.1 million, or 2.1 percent, of the total US population.