Privacy, Security and the Five Safes Model

The Data Innovation Program is based on world-leading best practices for managing safe access to confidential or sensitive data. Even though the Data Innovation Program only uses de-identified data—data stripped of any information that could potentially identify individuals—it treats the data as confidential, sensitive and subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA).

B.C.’s approach is guided by

The Five Safes includes safe data, settings, projects, people and outputs

The Five Safes model outlines how to protect data and reduce the risk of sensitive data being accessed or used inappropriately. This model covers five key areas:

1. SAFE DATA: Data is de-identified

Within the Data Innovation Program, only de-identified data is available. De-identified data is a powerful resource for research projects: it can lead to analytical insights while maintaining individual privacy and confidentiality. This means

  • Personal identifiers such as names, driver’s license numbers and personal health numbers are removed. All data is protected as sensitive and confidential and subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
  • Analysts never see data that identifies anyone personally or can be used to target individuals

2. SAFE SETTINGS: Using the right technology to integrate data safely  

Data can only be accessed in a secure setting under government’s care and control. The Data Innovation Program uses a secure research environment located in B.C. that

  • Has physical, policy and technological controls to safeguard information
  • Has regular third-party privacy and security audits
  • Is managed in partnership by Population Data BC, an academic organization with a 20-year track record of secure data handling, linkage and storage

3. SAFE PROJECTS: Data projects must be in the public interest

Only approved projects can access the data. B.C. will ensure that data projects have a public benefit and pose no harm to individuals or communities. Access will be granted only for projects that

  • Have a clear public benefit
  • Have a valid statistical purpose
  • Demonstrate sound study design and methodology

4. SAFE PEOPLE: Only authorized individuals can access the data

Only authorized people can access the data. Authorized people are approved, trained government analysts and government-contracted researchers who

  • Take an oath of secrecy under the Statistics Act
  • Take privacy training and must pass an exam
  • Sign user agreements stipulating terms and conditions of their data access and use

5. SAFE OUTPUTS: Additional protection of privacy in research outputs

The Data Innovation Program takes measures to ensure a project’s research results are anonymous. This is an extra layer of protection in the unlikely event that integrating data sets somehow creates a composite of an identifiable person. The program

  • Sets clear obligations under the terms and conditions of access
  • Ensures project results are anonymous as a final step, including review by statisticians