Op Ed: Trust breached with lost government hard drive

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John Horgan Leader of the B.C. New Democrats
John Horgan Leader, BC New Democrats
John Horgan
Leader, BC New Democrats

By John Horgan, B.C. New Democrat leader, and the MLA for Juan de Fuca

Victoria: When governments collect information we expect them to protect it.  That means having proper policies in place about what information is collected, how it is stored, and who has access to it. When it comes to our children, our expectations are even higher. Sensitive and private information about our children must be treated with the absolute highest care and attention.

This week, we found out that the Liberal government betrayed the trust of the public by failing to protect private and sensitive information about our children.

It’s hard to understand how the government could be so careless that they lost that sensitive and personal information about 3.4 million students. The B.C. Liberals betrayed the public trust when they put all that information on a hard drive, didn’t bother to encrypt the data, stuck it in a government warehouse, and forgot about it. Now they have no idea where it is.

British Columbians deserve better from their government. In fact, this government has a long record of privacy breaches, and each time the answer is the same: we’ll do better. Sadly, each time the B.C. Liberals fail to follow through on that promise, and nothing changes.

The B.C. Liberals were even warned by the Information and Privacy Commissioner that there were gaps in how they handle personal information breaches. They have known about these problems for years, but it took the worst loss of private information in B.C.’s history for them to act.

They also promised to do better on delivering a school information system that actually works. After years of problems with the flawed $100 million BCeSIS student information computer system, the government scrapped it and spent another $100 million on its replacement. Incredibly, teachers and school administrators started the school year off by discovering that the new system was painfully slow, crashed, and made it harder to do their jobs.

Systems like BCeSiS and the new, but not improved, MyEducation BC track the kind of student data that the government announced was missing this week. The hard drive contained personal information collected from 1986-2009 from students who attended school in B.C. and the Yukon. It included names, addresses and school locations, and highly sensitive information like special needs designations, mental health records and child custody arrangements.

It also included information about students who applied for financial aid, students who went into industry training after high school and private information about children in foster care.

It is truly shocking that the B.C. Liberal government have said they have no idea where the hard drive is. It puts students, teachers and families at risk of potential identity theft, not to mention the potential that their private personal information could be used against them in a hurtful way.

When our children are having a hard time in school and speak to a counsellor, or when our children apply for a student loan, we should be able to trust that that information stays private. The B.C. Liberals have failed the people they were elected to serve too many times, and failed to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

They don’t even know if there are similar unencrypted hard drives from other ministries that could be missing. British Columbians should be able to trust that their government is keeping their personal information safe. Unfortunately, the B.C. Liberals have proven too many times they’re not up for the job.