BCGEU calls on Privacy Commissioner to examine IT outsourcing proposal

May 26, 2008

BCGEU President George Heyman has formally requested that B.C.'s Privacy Commissioner review whether the Campbell government's proposal to privatize government IT mainframe computer hosting services will contravene B.C.'s protection of privacy and freedom of information laws.

The proposal would turn over a massive amount of sensitive personal and government data to the private sector.

BCGEU represents workers in the Workplace Technology Services division of the Ministry of Labour. A branch of this division, the Workplace Hosting Services is currently negotiating the outsourcing of hosting services to IBM Canada Ltd. The work is expected to be subcontracted in one form or another to ISM Canada (owned by IBM) and TSSI (owned by Telus).

"The government has a responsibility to protect the sensitive personal information of British Columbians," says Heyman. "We believe this proposed privatization scheme has too many substantial risks to privacy associated with it."

In a letter to Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis, Heyman says placing such a vast amount of government and personal data into the hands of private for-profit contractors will compromise information security.

Heyman has asked the privacy commissioner to review whether government can actually fulfil its responsibility to protect personal and sensitive information by outsourcing hosting services in particular, or whether the technical risks are too great.

The union is also concerned whether data will be transferred outside Canada to other countries. Heyman wants assurance that no personal information will be stored, sent, or even accessed outside Canada.

Moving government IT hosting into private hands could add potential complications when it comes to making freedom of information requests. Heyman is seeking assurance that FOI requests will not be made more difficult, take longer to process, or cost more to obtain requested documents.

Heyman warns there are too many serious and new risks associated with this latest privatization effort. He argues the government should halt contract negotiations with IBM until the privacy commissioner completes a review of this proposed project and its impact on privacy and freedom of information in B.C.

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