TORONTO, June 7 /CNW/ - Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner,
Dr. Ann Cavoukian, issued her fifth Health Order today following an
investigation she conducted after a video image of a woman providing a urine
sample in a washroom at a methadone clinic in Sudbury, Ontario, was
inadvertently intercepted by a wireless device (a "back up" camera system) in
a car parked near the Clinic. The Commissioner is urging all health care
providers to immediately review any video surveillance systems they are using.
On April 30, 2007, a CBC radio reporter advised the office of the
Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) that she had been notified by an
individual who, much to his surprise, had viewed an image of a toilet in a
washroom on his vehicle's "back up" camera monitor while driving by the
Clinic. Subsequently, the CBC reporter also observed through similar means the
same toilet - only this time there was a patient using it.
Commissioner Cavoukian immediately asked the Clinic to turn off its
camera system. The Clinic, completely unaware that any interception of the
washroom's video images had been taking place, immediately complied and
replaced its wireless system with one that is hardwired. Further, both the IPC
and the Clinic notified the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario,
which had issued guidelines permitting the taking of supervised urine samples
for drug screening purposes. A communiqué was later issued by the College to
all methadone clinics in Ontario regarding the dangers of wireless systems.
In her Health Order, Commissioner Cavoukian provides guidance as to what
health information custodians may expect regarding the treatment of wireless
technologies under the Personal Health Information Protection Act. This
incident highlighted the inherent problems with the use of wireless video
surveillance. While the video images were not being recorded, they still
constitute a record of personal health information that must be protected
against unauthorized disclosure. The order explains why.
The messages in the Commissioner's Order are being reinforced with a Fact
Sheet entitled, Wireless Communications Technologies: Video Surveillance
Systems, which highlights the need for health information custodians to
protect personal information collected by wireless communication technology.
The use of video surveillance and wireless transmission equipment requires due
diligence and end-to-end care, proportionate to the sensitivity of the
information or images captured.
Commissioner Cavoukian recommends that health information custodians
should conduct privacy impact assessments on proposed video surveillance
systems; confirm that the signal cannot be intercepted; post clearly visible
signs to inform patients of the existence of any video cameras; allow only a
minimum number of staff to access the video equipment; and provide training
for staff on privacy and security issues with the use of video equipment. A
second fact sheet covering the broader range of wireless communication
technologies is forthcoming.
The Clinic, in full co-operation with the IPC, has already taken the
following steps to ensure the privacy of its patients:
- Immediately contained the privacy breach by turning off the wireless
system and replacing it with a wired system;
- Conducted a security review of the new wired system;
- Worked with the IPC to draft and post a notice in the Clinic waiting
room to advise patients of the privacy breach; and
- Notified the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to alert
other methadone prescribers that wireless camera systems are not
In addition, the Commissioner has ordered the Clinic to conduct an annual
security and privacy review of its personal health information handling
systems and procedures to ensure continued compliance with the Personal Health
Information Protection Act.
Stressing that this particular incident highlights the hazards of using
wireless technology when handling personal information, the Commissioner is
reminding all health information custodians that wireless technology poses an
obvious risk to privacy and that they should learn from this unfortunate
incident. Since there are a limited number of frequency bands available for
transmission, the potential for intercepting video images and other wireless
information relating to an individual poses a significant threat to privacy.
"Accordingly, it is my view that if operators of methadone clinics or any
other health information custodians intend to use wireless communications
technology in their respective settings," says the Commissioner, "they should
only do so if strong, privacy protective precautions have been taken."
"Health information custodians who use video surveillance," said the
Commissioner, "should either use a wired video surveillance system, which
inherently prevents interception, or a wireless one with appropriate measures,
such as strong encryption, to preclude unauthorized access. Nothing short of
this will be acceptable."
The Commissioner's Health Order and Fact Sheet are available at:
For further information:
For further information: Media contact: Bob Spence, Communications
Co-ordinator, Direct line: (416) 326-3939, Toll free: (800) 387-0073, Cell
phone: (416) 873-9746, firstname.lastname@example.org