Letter to public health and government officials on release of COVID-19 related data

Apr 16 2020

I want to thank you and your staff for all that you are doing to protect the public’s health during this crisis. At a time like this, people depend on public servants more than ever, and it’s heartening to see health care workers and other essential staff across the province demonstrate their commitment to the public good, despite the risks to their own health and safety.

In the last few weeks, various media outlets have contacted me seeking to clarify what information can and cannot be disclosed by public health units and government organizations concerning the COVID-19 outbreak in Ontario. Because of these questions, I am reaching out to clarify that during a public health crisis, Ontario’s privacy laws are not a barrier to sharing information that can help control disease outbreaks, keep the public safe, and allow people to assess the public health response.

Public health units and government organizations should provide as much information as is necessary to protect public health, without naming individuals. This non-identifying information could include numbers of affected individuals, demographic data such as approximate age and gender, as well as geographic locations of infected or deceased individuals, including long term care facilities, or workplaces, especially if they are in a location where large numbers of people might have gathered.

Your efforts to keep Ontarians safe, while protecting the health privacy of individuals, should be lauded. Please feel free to reach out to me or my staff if you have any questions related to the application of Ontario’s privacy laws relative to this emergency. While our office is physically closed, the IPC is working and is available at all times for consultation and advice on access and privacy issues.

Again, please accept my thanks and hope for an end to this public health crisis.

Sincerely,

Brian Beamish
Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario

 

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