The Laws Didn't Fail

Monday, September 10, 2007

Regarding Marc Fisher's Sept. 2 Metro column, "When Privacy Laws Do More Harm Than Good":

Privacy forms the basis of liberty. The problem lies not with the laws but with those who fail to disclose needed information when required.

Privacy laws allow for the disclosure of information in cases involving the health and safety of individuals or the risk of serious harm. I issued a fact sheet (see http:// to clarify this point and identified circumstances when personal information could be disclosed under Ontario's privacy laws, which I oversee. It is similar in other Canadian jurisdictions.

In the United States, both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act also permit the sharing of information in situations involving imminent threats to health or safety. For students this could include elements of threatened suicide, other threats or unsafe conduct. The Privacy Act has a provision allowing for disclosure in compelling circumstances.

To infer that privacy protections were responsible for the events at Virginia Tech is to completely misunderstand the role that privacy plays in preserving liberty. The tragedy lies with the default -- in this case, of nondisclosure and inaction -- not with much-needed privacy laws that uphold our rights and freedoms.


Information and Privacy Commissioner

Province of Ontario


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