If you haven’t filled out Parrsboro’s tax survey yet, don’t bother. The town is abandoning it.
The survey asked Parrsboro ratepayers if they preferred paying a flat rate for fire protection and street lighting instead of financing those services through general taxes based on assessed property values.
Chief Administrative Officer Ray Hickey says councillors decided to ditch the survey after warktimes.com pointed out that it violates Nova Scotia’s Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act (PIIDPA). The legislation, passed in 2006, prohibits municipalities and other public bodies from storing personal information in foreign countries where privacy laws may not be as strict as they are in Canada. The survey was being conducted using the online services of SurveyMonkey, an American company with computer servers in the U.S. where the Patriot Act gives authorities wide access to personal information.
When the problem was first pointed out last week, Ray Hickey said the online survey did not violate Nova Scotia law because people filling it out were voluntarily sending their personal information to SurveyMonkey.
However, Kevin Finch, who speaks for the Nova Scotia government, says municipalities must seek people’s consent before it’s legal to store their personal information on foreign computers. There was no mention in the survey that the information was being sent to the U.S. The municipality could also report to the minister of justice that it feels it’s necessary to store personal information outside Canada. It appears, however, that town council wasn’t aware of the requirements of Nova Scotia’s international privacy law.
Hickey says the online survey was free, but SurveyMonkey was asking for money if the town wanted additional information and that was another reason for abandoning it. He adds that councillors may consider other options.
A great scoop with this story.
As with all levels of governments, municipalities need to exercise due diligence where matters of privacy occur or intrude. Indeed, in this day and age, I’m surprised that – it’s small size notwithstanding – the Town of Parrsboro lacked oversight on an issue that is front and centre in the news, and in the emerging cultural awareness of how such (private) data can be used without our permission, and not in our best interests.