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Recent Headlines Give me Concern

March 26, 2024 - Ron Kruzeniski, Information and Privacy Commissioner

In the past weeks, media have speculated on health issues pertaining to a high-profile person in the public eye. One of those headlines involved allegations of an attempted breach of personal health information, which you can find here.

The people of Saskatchewan should rest assured that we have laws that prohibit snooping into their personal information and personal health information. In our province, everyone is entitled to privacy, free from unauthorized intrusions or snooping into their confidential medical and other personal information.

Individuals who are in the public eye, are equally entitled to these protections. People may have jobs or roles that invite or attract media attention, but with very few exceptions, they maintain the right to see restrictions on how personal information or personal health information about them is used and if it is disclosed – the very essence of privacy in a democratic society. We can debate how much of their life is private or public, but I hope we all agree that their personal health information, whether it is cancer, diabetes, or a heart condition, is deserving of the same protections that we all enjoy.

Some public officials choose to make public their health issues to put focus on a particular disease or condition. I admire them when they do that. Their goal may be to educate and support those with a similar condition. On the other hand, there are those who choose to keep their health issues to themselves, and we should respect their right to do so.

The Health Information Protection Act prohibits snooping into other’s personal health information. This applies to those that work in the health sector including staff and physicians and to others who may attempt to break into our health care databases. It is an offense and if caught, there can and should be consequences.

We have had our own experiences with unauthorized access to personal health information. For example, I issued an Investigation Report in January 2024, where I found that a doctor working in Saskatchewan was snooping. You can read it here.

Whether motivated by curiosity, or the desire for profit, in spite of the law, some will be tempted to snoop. That’s why health care providers and others that work for trustees in Saskatchewan are required to take steps to protect personal health information. Guidance is available on my office’s website on the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of snooping. In addition to requirements to raise awareness, trustees must train staff and audit and monitor the use of personal health information and utilize technological solutions that can help detect and deter snooping.

Recently, in Ontario, The Ottawa Hospital piloted some software with AI functionality to monitor health information systems to detect snooping. I think we should study this type of software in Saskatchewan to see if it is reliable and safe.

Let’s make every reasonable effort to ensure that those who are tempted to snoop are not successful and personal health information is protected. And please respect other’s rights to privacy at all times and recognize the sensitive nature of their health care issues. If you don’t, be aware that there are consequences.

 

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