Civil liberties group warns of ‘invasion of privacy’ over COVID-19 test data

Zanana Akande

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association together with the Black Legal Action Centre, HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario and Aboriginal Legal Services, has written to Ontario’s solicitor general outlining its concerns over “an extraordinary invasion of privacy”  regarding persons tested positive for COVID-19.

The letter was sent to the solicitor general after the Ontario government moved to provide police forces with the personal information of  those tested — including names, addresses and dates of birth.

Earlier this month, the province issued an emergency order allowing police, firefighters and paramedics to access what it called “critical information” about individuals confirmed to be infected. The move was meant “to protect Ontario’s first responders and stop the spread of COVID-19,” the province said in a news release  on April 6 last.

“Strict protocols will be enforced to limit access to this information and will only be used to allow first responders to take appropriate safety precautions to protect themselves and the communities they serve,” the release said, adding that first responders would no longer have access to the data after the emergency declaration is lifted.

But according to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, “at the time of the order, Ontario’s privacy commissioner objected to the move, but the regulation was passed despite the province being  unable to demonstrate it was necessary for public safety.

” Providing personal health information directly to law enforcement is an extraordinary invasion of privacy,” the organization has said.

“Such a measure should only be taken when clearly authorized by law and absolutely necessary, given the particular circumstances.”

The letter points out that “, any database listing individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ontario will be underinclusive.

“The government currently has restrictive testing criteria, and many individuals who have COVID-19 may not have received a COVID-19 test.

“Police officers, like all first responders, must operate under the assumption that everyone they come into contact with is a potential active carrier. Infection control measures targeting only individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be ineffective at protecting frontline workers.

” Universal precautions are necessary, and it is not clear what – if any – additional protective measures police officers and other first responders could or would take based on Ontario’s incomplete COVID-19 testing information.”

The letter also points out that ” according to the regulation and government statements the information that will be provided does not include the date that an individual tested positive.”

” This means that old, outdated test results could incorrectly identify people as having COVID-19 when they have already recovered and are no longer contagious.

” It is difficult to understand how first responders will effectively use testing information that is both incomplete and out of date.

“Indeed, there is a real risk that using this database will createa false sense of security when first responders are interacting with individuals who have not been flagged, thus serving to create rather than mitigate danger.”