Privacy Commissioner calls for stronger laws

•Canada at a ‘tipping point’ where privacy rights and democratic values at stake: Therrien

•”Individual privacy is not a right we simply trade away for innovation, efficiency or commercial gain”

•Calls for Ottawa to move quicker toward enhanced privacy protection legislation

Saying that the digital revolution is raising “some of the most fundamental questions of our time,” the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has issued a call for stronger privacy laws.

In a Nov. 23 letter to Navdeep Singh Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said that the rise of digital innovation—while driving productivity, growth and competitiveness—has also led Canada to a “tipping point” upon which privacy rights and democratic values are at stake.

Therrien hinted at “recent events” that have shed light on how people’s personal information can be manipulated and used in “unintended, even nefarious, ways.” He said he is growing “increasingly troubled” that longstanding privacy rights and values aren’t being accorded equal importance within the digital ecosystem.

“Individual privacy is not a right we simply trade away for innovation, efficiency or commercial gain,” he said in the letter.

Therrien’s warning comes against a backdrop of concerns around how major digital companies like Facebook, Google and Apple are utilizing the vast amounts of personal data at their disposal—data that drives much of the modern marketing economy.

Facebook in particular has come increased scrutiny in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data of 87 million users was exposed to the political consulting firm working for then U.S. presidential candidate Donald Drumpf.

Meanwhile, a New York Times report on Monday detailed how apps are supplying anonymized—but highly precise—location data to at least 75 companies. The story found that in some cases, the location of app users is updated more than 14,000 times a day.

Noting that both Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook have expressed support for a new law similar to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Therrien said there appears to be growing support for stricter privacy laws.

“You know that the ground has shifted and that we have reached a crisis point when the tech giants have become outspoken supporters of serious regulation,” he wrote. “Now is the time to ensure we adopt the best approach for Canadians.”

Therrien said that Canada has been slow to implementing legislative change around privacy, putting the trust Canadians have in the digital economy at risk and undermining the confidence that Canadian values will be preserved. – Chris Powell

Chris Powell