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Coronavirus: Ontario transport agency shares user data with public health body

Metrolinx stressed the privacy measures in place and the “extraordinary times”. The case is one of a growing number which highlight how officials are faced with finding the balance between individual privacy and the common good amid an urgent public health crisis.

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Ontario’s public transport agency Metrolinx said last week that, on request, it gave Toronto Public Health contact information associated with registered Presto payments cards used on specific trips, after a 40-year-old man was diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19).

 

It shared the news via Twitter and said: “Under Ontario’s privacy act (FIPPA), we are permitted to disclose personal information in compelling circumstances affecting the health or safety of individuals, provided we notify them.”

 

Metrolinx said the process, which was put in place following the 2003 SARS outbreak, is managed and monitored by its Privacy Office. Metrolinx also notified Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner about the information provided to Toronto Public Health.

 

The data related to specific MiWay and GO trips taken between March 2 and 4. Metrolinx received the request to share data on March 7. As a precaution, the vehicles used on those days were taken out of service and given an extra cleaning.

 

“Extraordinary times”

 

Anne-Marie Aikens, senior manager, media, Metrolinx, said: “These are extraordinary times and each circumstance is responded to individually under the advice of public health.”

 

David T.S. Fraser, an advisor on Canadian privacy and tech law and author of the Canadian Privacy Law Blog, tweeted: “Yes, this is lawful (at least in Ontario). Yes, this is OK. And yes, we’re going to see more of this.”

 

"These are extraordinary times and each circumstance is responded to individually under the advice of public health."

 

The case is one of a growing number which highlight how officials are faced with finding the balance between long-term individual privacy and the common good amid an urgent public health crisis.

 

Israel taps phone data

 

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has authorised the country’s internal security agency to tap into “a vast and previously undisclosed trove” of mobile phone data to retrace the movements of people who have contracted the coronavirus and identify those they have interacted with so they can be quarantined.

 

It is understood that the measures will be made possible under emergency regulations that allow for the use of the data for 30 days, with the permission of the attorney general.

 

“We have to maintain the balance between the rights of the individual and needs of general society, and we are doing that.”

 

“Israel is a democracy,” Netanyahu is quoted as saying. “We have to maintain the balance between the rights of the individual and needs of general society, and we are doing that.”

 

The existence of the data, which is said to have been gathered for anti-terrorism purposes, has not previously been reported.

 

Last week, South Korea announced it would deploy a new system using data such as surveillance camera footage and credit card transactions of confirmed coronavirus patients to recreate their movements.

 

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