There must be “stringent” safeguards to limit access to a controversial provincial database that includes personal information about every person who has tested positive for COVID-19, the Toronto Police Services Board says.

The province enacted an emergency order last month that permitted police services to access a list of everyone in Ontario who has had a confirmed case of COVID-19 but the TPS has not yet accessed that database and it remains unclear whether they intend to.

Nonetheless, the Toronto Police Services Board is expected to approve a draft policy today that sets a number of “guiding principles” for developing policies around accessing the information.

The board says in a report that it is “vital” that there be “stringent and appropriate safeguards to limit access to the information to the greatest extent possible.”

They say that the database should only be accessed by authorized users in communication and dispatch services and that any information obtained from it be “segregated to the maximum extent possible from other information” so that it can be removed or destroyed at a later date.

The report also says that the information should only be disclosed in specific circumstances. It says that it can either be used to help officers responding to calls for service reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19 or to allow officers who have had already had interaction with an individual confirm whether that person had previously tested positive for COVID-19.

“Given that the order permits access and use of personal health information – that is, that an identified individual has at some point tested positive for COVID-19 – the board believes it is necessary that appropriate governance controls are in place concerning the access, use, disclosure and retention of information obtained via the portal, should the service choose to utilize it,” the report states. “The confidentiality of the personal health information obtained via the portal, and an individual's privacy interests associated with that information, must be protected to the greatest extent possible.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has previously expressed concern about personal medical information being made available to first responders, telling CTV News Toronto last month that it is an “extraordinary step” and that the government needs to be “extremely clear” about what the information will be used for and why it is necessary.

In addition to placing strict protocols around the access of the information, the draft policy being considered by the board today would also require that the TPS disclose how frequently it uses the database.

The policy says that within 60 days of the emergency order ceasing to be in effect, the service would have to reveal the total number of requests for access to the database and the total number of COVID-19 positive test results shared.

As well, the draft policy says that the information gleaned from the database cannot be entered into the Canadian Police Information Centre and must have a default expiry date when added to the computer-aided dispatch system, so that it will no longer be viewable once the emergency order expires.

The emergency order is currently in effect through June 2 but could be extended.