Province looks to strengthen Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

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The provincial government wants to improve B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) to deliver better, more inclusive services to people, businesses and public sector organizations.

The proposed changes are designed to strengthen privacy protections and keep pace with new technology, according to a release from the provincial government.

“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we live, work, connect with loved ones and access the services we need. Today, people can safely talk to their doctor via Zoom, learn online and do business faster,” said Lisa Beare, minister of citizens’ services. “These amendments help people continue to access the services they need faster, while ensuring their privacy is protected. We’re making changes today to keep pace with advancements in technology and provide the level of service that people expect in the digital era.”

The proposed amendments include: 

-updating FOIPPA’s data residency provisions so public bodies can use modern tools while continuing to protect personal information;

-enhancing public-sector privacy protections and increasing accountability by implementing mandatory privacy breach reporting;

-introducing a modest application fee for non-personal freedom of information (FOI) requests; and

-increasing information sharing with Indigenous Peoples, adding Indigenous cultural protections and removing non-inclusive language.

The province said data-residency requirement changes will bring B.C. in line with other jurisdictions by removing restrictions that prevent access to digital tools and technologies. 

The changes will increase access to technologies and streamline service delivery for public bodies, according to the release. For example, greater access to cloud-based services will improve B.C.’s post-secondary institutions’ ability to attract students by allowing them to use cloud-based education tools offered outside of B.C.

“This is a positive development from government that B.C.’s tech industry welcomes,” said Jill Tipping, president and CEO, BC Tech Association. “The changes to B.C.’s data residency requirements will allow local companies to leverage cutting-edge technology to help B.C.’s public sector deliver the modern tools that citizens expect with the privacy protections they need.”

The province said the changes are meant to strengthen privacy protection through added privacy-protection controls to safeguard people’s information, while remaining transparent and accountable. 

Enhancements to mandatory breach reporting require privacy management programs and clarify requirements for public bodies’ privacy impact assessments, while proposed amendments will increase penalties for offences under the act and introduce new penalties, such as for knowingly accessing information without authorization.

FOIPPA was introduced in 1993 and applies to more than 2,900 public bodies in B.C. It is meant to keep governments accountable to the public and protects the privacy of residents.

Apart from minor amendments in 2019, FOIPPA has not substantially changed since 2011, according to the province.

The province processes more than 10,000 FOI requests annually and the volume of requests increased by over 40 per cent over a two-year period, reaching an all-time high of more than 13,000 requests in 2019-20 (13,055), according to the release.

The average cost to government for processing a single FOI request is $3,000, though some large, complex requests can exceed this number.

The province said about 40 per cent of requests are for personal records, which people are not charged for. It added the proposed amendments will not change this.

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