“Can’t Anything Be Private Anymore?”

by | January 24, 2015

In her latest opinion column in Peterborough This Week, Sarah Frank asks, “Can’t Anything Be Private Anymore?” Frank starts her article with a general discussion about personal privacy:

Living in a society driven by new technologies and steered by highly-specialized marketing techniques, it’s no surprise that our level of personal privacy is declining — and has been for some time now.

For the most part, we’re willing participants.

Then she gets to specifics:

This week we learned that more than 200 abortion files were inappropriately accessed at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre. If the line should be anywhere, I sure hope it’s there.

And to be clear, this isn’t a debate over whether the procedures should be legal or whether they should be covered by OHIP, but as a disclaimer, know that I consider myself a member of the ‘pro-choice’ camp.

and asks,

But should the fact that abortion files were breached be given special attention?

Frank answers the question with an unequivocal “Yes” and goes on to explain why:

We’re not talking about cancer treatments or X-rays (as sensitive as those issues may be) — we’re talking about the decisions women made to abort a pregnancy, which is arguably one of the most intimate, life-changing and controversial decisions a woman can make.

The woman who’s been accused of accessing those files maintains she’s done nothing wrong. So, I’ll say this to the person or people who did access those files: How dare you.

You’ve taken our decline in privacy to a brand new low.

It should come as no surprise that the “woman who’s been accused” is identified as “a high-profile anti-abortion campaigner.” She failed to act professionally and ethically while she was a a health information clerk at Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC); she invaded the privacy of 201 women because of her anti-abortion stance:

she used to protest outside the hospital with the Peterborough Pro-Life group during her lunch hour on Saturdays.

Greater love has no woman than this: that a woman gives up her lunch hour to protest a woman’s right to autonomy. Yes, how dare she be so disgusting.

6 thoughts on ““Can’t Anything Be Private Anymore?”

  1. Diane G.

    Wouldn’t there be a law against such access? And also one making it illegal to fail to keep records secure so that they can’t be accessed in the first place?

    This woman ought to be spending her lunch hour and all the rest of them as well sitting in jail.

    1. Indi

      > Wouldn’t there be a law against such access? And also one making it illegal to fail to keep records secure so that they can’t be accessed in the first place?

      Yes, and yes – in both cases the same law. It’s PHIPA, the Personal Health Information Protection Act.

      No jail time, unfortunately, but the woman could get up to a $50,000 fine. However… it’s highly unlikely she will be charged. Only one person has ever been prosecuted (and that case is still open, I think), despite some shockingly horrible privacy breaches (like one guy admitted selling information about hundreds of women who had given birth to a bank selling RESPs). In this case, the woman was caught in 2012 and hasn’t been charged yet… so it probably ain’t gonna happen.

      This has actually been a bit of a sore point among privacy activists: the only person who can bring charges under PHIPA is the Attorney General… and she doesn’t seem to give a shit. A lot of people have been calling for her to take privacy breaches more seriously, and actually lay some effing charges.

      The hospital wouldn’t be on the hook, either. The Privacy Commissioner checked them out and concluded that they were complying with the law properly.

      What *is* happening – and what makes this case so interesting – is that the women whose files were breached are *suing*. And… so far it seems to be working. If it actually does work, that will scare the *shit* out of every other hospital. And, this particular hospital may turn around and sue the people who did the privacy breach. So even though no charges are fines are likely, things could still possibly end up going very badly for the people who did the breaches.

  2. Diane G.

    Veronica–Imagine all the lobbying that must have gone on to get that ridiculous statute of limitation!

    Indi, very interesting, thank you.

  3. Heather Hastie

    I used to work in Quality and Risk Management at the biggest hospital in the southern hemisphere. At that time there was a nurse who saw her niece at the hospital and looked her up. The niece was there for an abortion. The aunt told her very religious family. The aunt lost her job, but it was too late – the niece suffered big time. She had to leave university, but avoided being sent back to her home country because a counsellor found her a job at a supermarket. After a few years her life got back on track, but I don’t think she ever made it up with her family.

    Several doctors were also given written warnings because they looked up the records of a sports star when he was brought in following an injury during a game.

    Induction for all staff includes a long session on privacy issues. Someone actually losing their job serves as a pretty good warning to others, especially when it’s a career position and it gives them a black mark with their professional body, which therefore follows them around.

  4. PatG

    Too bad it is too late for charges. This wasn’t an accidental breach with no ill intent, this was a ideologically motivated targeted search.


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