Safety policy or invasion of privacy? Debate over police access to COVID-19 database
KITCHENER -- Police and first responders have access to a database identifying those who have tested positive for COVID-19, but some question whether that list is an invasion of privacy.
Bryan Larkin, the Police Chief for Waterloo Regional Police, says it plays an important part in keeping his officers safe.
“The information is used where officers may potentially expose themselves,” he says.
That includes whenever they come in close contact with someone during a police call.
Larkin says knowing the person that they’re dealing with has had a positive diagnosis helps protect officers, their families, and by extension, all members of the public who they interact with during their shift.
There are strict rules surrounding who has access to the sensitive personal information.
By providing access to the database, the province aims to create a balance between public safety and privacy.
“I do want to reassure the community that not every single member can access this,” says Larkin. “It’s a very finite, controlled by the emergency operation centre, communication centre, supervisors, and more importantly, governed by board policy which hold the Chief accountable.”
Critics say allowing police to access personal medical information, even during a pandemic, is a slippery slope.
“We have serious questions about the utility and legality of providing this information to police officers,” says Abby Deshman of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “We just don’t see how this is going to help respond to the pandemic.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says it’s concerned that a person’s COVID-19 status may be accessed without them knowing. They also worry that the province’s database doesn’t accurately represent those who actually pose a health risk because there are still so many questions surrounding the virus. Some of those include how COVID-19 is transmitted, inconsistencies in testing and those who have tested positive for the virus but who many no longer be infectious.
They say the policies developed during the pandemic need to be based on science, not fear.
“We want to make sure that this first database that we know of, that’s being shared outside of the health community, is absolutely based on the evidence and not just a kneejerk response,” says Deshman.
Once the province lifts the emergency declaration, police and first responders will no longer have access to the database.
A lawyer for Waterloo Regional Police, who presented the policy to the board, says that all information on COVID-19 status will be removed from police records within six months or less.