Last Updated: September 16, 2010
September has been declared "Privacy and Security" month by the Government of Saskatchewan. Privacy can mean many different things in different situations. It could mean making a phone call without someone eavesdropping or being able to choose who you invite into your home or even not having your employer go through your personal emails. However, the focus of this article is privacy of personal information and the responsibilities of governments to protect it.
Most of us give out our personal information every day in a variety of situations. For example, the store where you purchase an item may ask for your postal code or you may be asked to give your hospitalization number when you go for a blood test or your email address when you visit some websites. In particular you may be asked for personal information when you receive government services and health care. In Saskatchewan there are laws specifically designed to protect your privacy when you are dealing with government, government agencies and health care providers.
These laws apply to what is called personal information and personal health information. These are generally defined as information about an identifiable individual. Information in which individuals are not identified (such as statistics) is generally not protected by privacy laws. Personal information includes things like your address, your race, religion, sexual orientation, family status, age or nationality, your S.I.N., your personal opinions and the personal opinions of others about you, personal correspondence and financial information including tax information. Personal health information includes things like a medical record held by a doctor, a patient record held by a hospital, registration information held by Saskatchewan Health and records of prescriptions filled by a pharmacist.
There are rules concerning how your personal information can be collected, used and disclosed, as well as rules concerning safe storage of this information to prevent unauthorized disclosures.
A government agency can only collect your personal information for purposes that are relevant to the program they run. The information must be reasonably necessary for the program. Just because you agree to give the information does not give them the right to collect information that is not needed for their program. When possible government agencies are required to collect information directly from the individual concerned. When personal health information is collected the primary purpose must be for your benefit and only information needed to provide you with health care services should be collected.
Personal information that government agencies collect can only be disclosed in certain situations. These include where you consent to the disclosure and where the disclosure is for the purpose the information was collected in the first place. There are situations where information can be disclosed without your consent. These include when there is a subpoena or warrant or the disclosure is otherwise required by law. Information can also be disclosed to protect the mental or physical health or the safety of an individual and to assist in the provision of services to an individual.
Generally speaking your personal health information also cannot be disclosed without your consent. When disclosure of information relates to providing you with a service that you require and agree to, your consent is implied. Unless you have specifically asked them not to, a health care provider may also disclose information to close personal relatives about services you are currently receiving.
There are also situations where your personal health information may be disclosed without your consent. These circumstances include situations where the law requires a patient's condition to be reported, such as cases involving some communicable diseases and where there is a court order requiring disclosure.
For more information about your privacy rights visit the Office of the Privacy Commissioner at www.oipc.sk.ca.ISBN/ISSN number: 1918-1728