UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA: Research records are outside the scope of FIPPA

Real Case Study

This case study deals with the question of whether those who fund research have a right to the raw, personal data generated. The case study shows that if SGIGs hire university researchers in BC, the research information will be protected from disclosure under BC’s FIPPA.

In University of British Columbia (Re), 2014 BCIPC 50 (CanLII) an applicant requested UBC Research Ethics Board (REB) records regarding clinical trials. UBC objected, relying on section 3(1)(e) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). Section 3(1)(e) provides that records containing research information of researchers at post-secondary education institutions are outside the scope of FIPPA. The Office of the Information Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia (OIPC) had to answer two questions. First, were the clinical trial records research information and thus excluded from FIPPA? Second, did the UBC researchers either own or have control over the research information? The OIPC answers both questions as: yes. The OIPC defined “research information” as the:

product of scientific or systematic research, with the researcher needing to take a critical approach to their evidence. Further, the evaluation of the evidence must derive something meaningful, such as new knowledge, principles, theories or facts. (para. 12)

The OIPC decided the clinical records were “research information” as defined.

The applicant argued that since the drug companies funded the UBC researchers, the drug companies owned the research information. As a result, the applicant argued that the clinical trial records were included in FIPPA and should be disclosed. The OIPC rejected that argument. The OIPC held that just because the UBC researchers received outside funding, they still had academic freedom. As a result, they qualified for the protection of section 3(1)(e) of FIPPA. In the end, the OIPC dismissed the case.