TORONTO - Hunters and fishers in Ontario expressed concerns about their privacy Wednesday because their personal information is being stored in the United States, where it is subject to the American Patriot Act.
Tennessee-based Active Outdoors won a contract to handle licence applications from Ontario hunters and fishers starting Jan. 1, and warns on its answering machine that the data it stores are subject to American laws.
The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters said its 100,000 members are "deeply concerned" about the potential loss of privacy inherent in having their personal information stored in the U.S.
"They're frustrated, they're nervous, they're outraged. They don't want their information stored out of country," OFAH executive director Lezlie Goodwin said in an interview.
"They don't want anyone accessing this data except their provincial government, which they willingly give the information to in exchange for their fishing and hunting licence."
Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle said Active Outdoors signed a contract with very specific terms about abiding by Ontario law to protect the privacy of personal information.
"There will be no release of the information that's there as a result of the company in the States having that information," said Gravelle.
"If indeed they wanted to use the information they would need to seek approval from us and they would not be receiving that approval."
However, the anglers and hunters worry Homeland Security will use the Patriot Act to override any provincial law to access the personal data of Ontarians stored in the U.S. and could use the information when Ontario residents try to cross the international border.
"The Patriot Act is in existence, and there's no telling when the U.S. government may decide that they need to access that information," said Goodwin.
"They're nervous that many of them are firearms owners, and are even nervous about the fact they could be targets of marketing."
The Progressive Conservatives raised the issue during question period, saying constituents across Ontario are calling their offices to complain about having their personal data stored in the U.S.
"How can you assure Ontarians that this information will not be accessed by another government or third party for their own purposes," asked Tory natural resources critic Laurie Scott.
Gravelle said the Ontario government was monitoring the situation closely to make sure personal information is truly protected.
"The very tough provisions of Ontario's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act absolutely apply," Gravelle told the legislature.
"It's very important to us that we maintain the privacy provisions."
The New Democrats said the potential abuse of personal information is just one of the reasons they always oppose privatization of government services.
"Information about Ontarians should be something that is kept here in Ontario and not simply sold off to the highest bidder or in fact given away in order to save a couple of dollars," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"People value their information and they don't want to see it being misused, whether it's by a company or whether it's by another government."
The Federation of Anglers and Hunters also expressed anger that it will cost 16-cents more to mail every licence to Canada from the U.S., money Goodwin said "quickly adds up" for the hundreds of thousands of people who apply each year to hunt or fish.
"The fact that money from the special purpose account, which is primarily funded through fishing and hunting licence fees, is being used to pay U.S. postage on hunting licences that are coming from the States to Ontario hunters is absolutely unacceptable," said Goodwin.