CBC has lost an important federal court case about access to electronic data.
The decision endorses a position advanced by federal bureaucrats that data requested under the Access to Information Act should be withheld if there is a chance someone could be identified by linking anonymous details in the data to other information that is already public.
The case in question goes back several years to when the CBC requested access to Health Canada`s database of adverse drug reactions. Health released much of the data in 2003, and the CBC used it in two award-winning series on dangerous drugs.
But the battle continued over the field that identified the province where the reaction was reported.
Health Canada argued the addition of that field made it much easier to identify individuals, and to buttress its case compared information in the database to obituaries published on the Internet.
“The combination of this information made it relatively easy to identify personal information if the province field was known,“ a senior official argued in an affidavit. The department also noted that the CBC was able to track down someone who had died of a drug reaction by consulting obituaries.
A federal court judge agreed Health Canada had made the case that the field should be withheld, and ordered the CBC to pay Health Canada`s costs.
You can read the case online at http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/en/2008/2008fc258/2008fc258.html.