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Guelph Police defends its use of COVID-related portal to access personal info

Says it used the portal, established by the province as a safety measure for first responders, 'as intended'
20200616 Guelph Police Service Stock KA 01
Guelph Police Service headquarters. GuelphToday file photo

An internal report says the Guelph Police Service did nothing wrong in accessing personal COVID-related health data on a provincial data base over 4,057 times over three months earlier this year.

The Guelph Police Service was one of many police services in the provinces contacted by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) in August questioning the collection of personal data through the province’s First Responders COVID-19 Risk Look-Up Web Portal.

That portal, established in April to inform first responders of people who had tested positive for COVID, was shut down in July in part after the province deemed some were using it inappropriately.

Guelph Police was identified by the province as having conducted two searches of the portal that may have been inappropriate because they were “broad based municipal inquiries.”

According to the internal report headed to the Guelph Police Service Board meeting Thursday, an internal investigation deemed that there were “no intentional broad-based municipal queries undertaken; no deliberate misuse or inappropriate access to confidential information had occurred and no further action required.”

As for why Guelph Police accessed the portal what the CCLA called an “unusually high” number of times, the report offered no explanation.

“The COVID-19 portal was used as intended, as a prudent means to protect first responders from the COVID-19 virus when responding to calls for service in a pandemic environment,” it reads.

The report was prepared by police legal counsel Judith Sidlofsky Stoffman.

The portal included information about the COVID-19 status of specific individuals, including name, address and whether the individual had had a positive test result.  

The Guelph Police report says data was accessed only by authorized individuals and was not saved locally, thus there were no files to delete.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that, at no time did our Service have a running tally of the number of times the portal was accessed by this Service nor did it have a running comparative analysis of the portal’s use by this Service as compared to other Services,” it says. 

All the portal checks were done in accordance with the guidelines for its use established by provincial legislation, it concludes.

The Guelph Police report also notes that a memo from the province identifies “weaknesses” with the portal, including:

- it might take up to four days for test results to become available

- the information in the portal was only updated once a day and did not reflect real time testing information

- individuals who had tested positive may no longer have COVID-19

- individuals’ addresses may have been recorded inconsistently

- an address for a multi-unit building may have had a positive case but not at the relevant unit

- there may have been individuals at an address who did not reside there.

The portal was shut down on July 20, in part because the province detected improper usage.