12/05/2013 11:56 EST | Updated 02/04/2014 05:59 EST

Privacy commissioner says changes needed after highway worker snoops on driver

REGINA - Saskatchewan's privacy commissioner says the Ministry of Highways needs to take responsibility after a worker snooped on a driver.

Commissioner Gary Dickson was called after a traffic officer with the transport compliance branch had "an incident" with another driver while the highway employee was heading to work in his own vehicle in 2010.

The encounter was not work-related, although there are no details about what happened.

Dickson says in a report issued Thursday that, afterwards, the traffic officer "apparently wanted to know why the driver was upset," so he looked up the motorist's personal information on the Saskatchewan Government Insurance database. The highway worker then contacted the driver.

"Clearly, such a purpose is not related to an existing or proposed program or activity of (the ministry)," wrote Dickson.

The driver complained to SGI and the RCMP.

Traffic officers with the transport compliance branch are only authorized to use the SGI database to carry out their duties related to commercial vehicle enforcement. The commissioner says that's why there was a breach of privacy.

SGI apologized to the driver, but Dickson said it should have been the Highways Department that took responsibility for the privacy breach.

Dickson acknowledged that officials took some steps, which included restricting the worker's access to the database. But he added that the ministry needs to do more to stop the same thing from happening again. He said there's no monitoring or auditing of how the database is used by personnel.

Highways Minister Don McMorris says it was an isolated incident, but the ministry is taking it seriously.

"That's why the individual was suspended for 20 days without pay," McMorris said Thursday at the legislature.

"All the ministry staff, and especially in that department, were sent the guidelines again to make sure that they understand what is acceptable and what isn't.

"This individual no longer has access to that database, which I think is appropriate. Strong steps were taken. It's not acceptable."