Big Brother or Good Idea?

There are about 32 million people in Canada, which means there are 32 million Social Insurance Numbers, 32 million medical and dental files, and so forth. In other words it’s a lot of data, but nothing too taxing for even a moderately sophisticated computer network to track.

But instead of putting all of our information on one set of servers, making it universally accessible, our concerns over privacy mean that there’s one computer system for drivers licenses, another for police records, another for tax information. Medical files, dental files, education files and so on are not tracked nationally at all, and the health care centre has different records than your family doctor.

Putting all of our personal information together in one digital file that can be accessed a number of different ways may seem a little sinister, like something Big Brother might dream up to track and number its citizens. After all, living in a free society means that we have the right to keep our personal information private, away from the interference of the state and insulated from the abuses of people in power – unless of course we do something to relinquish that right to privacy, like commit a crime.

In fact, privacy is so valued in North America that lawyers and doctors can lose their licenses to practice if they reveal certain kinds of personal information, even if they did it for the public good.

But while privacy is worth protecting, the Dutch don’t seem to share our paranoia over pooling personal information onto digital files. Last week the Dutch government announced plans to begin tracking every citizen from cradle to grave through a unified national database, essentially creating an online record for every person born in the Netherlands after Dec. 31, 2006.

The record will include health and family data, and will eventually include all school and police records. That information will be available to health care workers and hospitals, educational institutions and the police using a formal application system that guarantees privacy.

While I recognize the potential for abuse, I personally believe that a national citizens database is a great idea and long overdue. The proven positives definitely outweigh the potential negatives.

I’ve now lived in four provinces, and have probably seen about 30 different doctors over the past 15 years. None of those doctors has had quick access to the records from any other doctors, which means I have to explain my entire medical history to every new physician I see – what problems I’ve had, how they were treated, the drugs I’ve been prescribed, the fact I had an allergic reaction once to penicillin, etc.


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