Privacy is not a Barrier to Releasing Non-Identifying Statistics

Feb 27 2018

A particularly rough influenza season this year has contributed to a healthy interest in statistical information related to flu outbreaks.

The public wants to know how serious the flu-threat is in their community, a risk often measured by the number of local flu-related deaths.

Recently, our office has been contacted by individuals having difficulty getting this type of non-identifying statistical information from local health authorities. Privacy is the most cited reason for withholding it.

Privacy laws do not prohibit the release of non-identifying statistical information. Health stats of this type can provide critical insights about disease trends — information the public has a right to know. If health authorities have this information, they should release it.

Our office encourages all public institutions to be as transparent as possible in releasing information that is of interest to the public. Institutions that adopt a proactive stance, one aimed at enhancing the public’s right to access information, are supporting accountability and building trust in their organization.

Access and privacy are not mutually exclusive — it is possible to achieve openness and transparency in a privacy-protective way. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to take a look at some of the many practical guidance materials our office has developed to help institutions achieve these goals.

 

Brian Beamish,
Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario