VICTORIA – B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham (pictured) has informed the government she will step down from her position when her term ends on July 6. CBC News reported that Denham has been offered the position of information commissioner for the United Kingdom. In a resignation letter to Minister of Finance Mike de Jong, Denham wrote it has been “a privilege to serve as British Columbia’s Commissioner for the past six years.”
“I leave believing that the independence and impartiality of this Office has served the public well,” she wrote. “I also leave knowing that government’s awareness of the importance of privacy and security of personal information, the need for good record keeping of government decisions and the public’s right to know have been enhanced during my tenure.”
Denham was appointed commissioner in May 2010, and has been central to several stories related to privacy and access to information in the province.
Most recently, she wrote a scathing report about the provincial government’s “triple-deleting” of emails in various ministries after whistleblower Tim Duncan alleged he was ordered to delete emails related to a freedom of information request.
She was also a long-time critic of what she called “oral government” within the provincial government – “where business is undertaken verbally and in a records-free way.” She said this undermines the freedom of information system by leaving little or no record of government decision-making.
After monitoring the performance of the six provincial health authorities, she says B.C. doesn’t do enough to guard the privacy of health information.
She favours a stand-alone law governing both public and private healthcare providers. She also says B.C. should follow other provinces and legislate fines of up to $50,000 for unauthorized snooping by healthcare staffers.
“They’re supposed to look at health information for their own patients, not look up information on celebrities, not look at their ex-spouse’s health information,” said the privacy watchdog. “It’s a serious problem of trust in the system, and we need higher penalties and enforcement.”
Before she takes up her new position, Denham will go through a pre-scrutiny hearing by the U.K.’s Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee. As well, her appointment must get final approval from the Queen. If there are no complications, Denham will start her new position this summer.