Monday, October 1, 2012

Nova Scotia trade union resurrects the USA Patriot Act boogeyman to prevent outsourcing

For those who have been following this topic in Canada, you'll remember that the first time that the USA Patriot Act appeared on the country's radar in earnest was when the British Columbia government proposed to outsource IT processing to the Canadian subsidiary of a US company. The union, most likely concerned about job losses latched onto the USA Patriot Act as the hook that would get some traction in the media and in the public mind.

That led to the inquiry by BC's Information and Privacy Commissioner, then amendments to that province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and then Nova Scotia's Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act.

Now, somewhat predictably, the principal Nova Scotia trade union for public employees is resurrecting the boogeyman to try to stop outsourcing of IT services by the provincial government. We'll see how this plays out ...

Data at risk in private-sector deal | The Chronicle Herald

Union worried Nova Scotian’s records vulnerable

The province’s largest public-sector union is worried about the security of Nova Scotians’ information if the government contracts out information technology work in a deal workers say could total $100 million over 10 years.

Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said Thursday that there’s a vast amount and array of data in the SAP computer system. She said it includes everything from payroll numbers to procurement information and data from the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

“There probably isn’t a single Nova Scotian ... that has not been impacted by SAP,” Jessome said.

“(Our members) are telling us that we have reason, no matter what the agreement is, that once that (information) goes to an international company, we should always be concerned about how far that goes and what acts does it cover in different countries across the world.”

She said employees mentioned the Patriot Act in the United States, passed after the 9-11 attacks. It requires U.S. companies to provide records to the American government upon demand.

A 2005 provincial auditor general’s report raised a concern that U.S. companies with Canadian subsidiaries could also be compelled to turn over information. In 2006, the minority Tory government of the day passed the Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act, meant to prevent U.S. authorities from inappropriately accessing Nova Scotians’ information under the Patriot Act.

Finance Department spokeswoman Michelle Lucas had said Wednesday that ensuring information is secure would be a top priority. She had no further comment on the potential outsourcing Thursday.

On Monday, government officials met with employees who run the system to tell them about the possibility their jobs will be contracted out. There are about 73 unionized workers, and another 35 who aren’t unionized. The non-union workers run the system for district health authorities and the IWK Health Centre.

Jessome said workers told her that the government is considering a 10-year contract for the work, worth $10 million a year.

Lucas had said Wednesday that a multinational firm approached the province last year about setting up a “global delivery centre” in the province. Its main office would be in Halifax, with a smaller one in Sydney.

Sources have said the firm is IBM Canada. Jessome said the government has told her which company, but she agreed to keep it confidential.

IBM Canada spokeswoman Carrie Bendsza said the company, which has employees in Halifax now, doesn’t comment on rumour or speculation. She also said it doesn’t reveal how many employees it has in individual cities or countries.

Jessome said there are currently eight union SAP information technology workers in Sydney, three in Truro, and the rest in Halifax.

Lucas has said that if the province does make a deal with the company, all affected provincial employees would be offered a job. Jessome said many have already indicated they wouldn’t take it.

She said they’d lose the security of being in the union, the work week would likely go up to 40 hours from 35, their pension plan would change to defined contribution from defined benefit, and they could face months-long placements at the company’s other locations, such as China and India.

“They’re certainly concerned about their jobs, no question, but the other thing that they were scared of is the security of information,” Jessome said.

Lucas also said the potential contracting out isn’t being considered as a cost-cutting measure, but as an economic development opportunity in the hope of creating more jobs.

The province has spent many millions on the SAP system since first adopting it in 1996, with some projects going over budget, and the system not always working properly.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoy your blog. There are numerous legal issues related to the utilization of cloud computing resources that have not been sufficiently analyzed by the US legal system. Do you recommend any authoritative texts regarding privacy law or cloud computing and the law?