A national coalition of public interest groups is asking MPs to enact effective privacy legislation without delay.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Canada's Coalition for Public Information, the Canadian Health Coalition, Electronic Frontier Canada, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, the National Privacy Coalition, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and the University of Ottawa Human Rights Research and Education Centre say that legislation governing private sector collection and use of personal information is long overdue.
The group issued a letter today to all MPs and Senators urging them to support Bill C-54, The Personal Information Protection Act, which is currently before Parliament. "Bill C-54 is not nearly as strong as we would like to see", said Philippa Lawson of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, "but it's not a bad compromise between our desires and those of industry. Any further watering down of this Bill to satisfy industry lobbies, and I think we would withdraw our support."
The group is particularly concerned about amendments allowing warrantless searches by police, surreptitious exchanges of personal information among insurance companies, and the creation of huge databases of personal health information. "Privacy is a basic human right", said Lawson. "Yet when it comes to personal information, that right is being violated with impunity. It's time to bring our laws back into line with our technological capabilities."
Dear Member of Parliament/Senator:
We are writing to urge you to support Bill C-54, The Personal Information Protection Act, and to oppose any amendments designed to create loopholes for particular industry lobbies (e.g., insurance, health, law enforcement).
We are the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Canada's Coalition for Public Information, the Canadian Health Coalition, Electronic Frontier Canada, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, the National Privacy Coalition, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and the University of Ottawa Human Rights Research and Education Centre.
Legislation governing private sector collection and use of personal information is long overdue. The technology for data collection and distribution, and market pressure to exploit that technology, have developed far more rapidly than legal protections against unauthorized use of our personal information. It's time to bring our laws into line with our technological capabilities and market realities.
Computer technologies now make it possible to compile, store, match and trade personal data at minimal cost. Although it is the desire and expectation of Canadians that their personal data will be used only with their knowledge and consent, this is generally not reflected in business practice. Private companies are routinely collecting, using, and disclosing personal information for their own benefit, without regard to the individual's right to privacy.
Evidence of this growing trade in personal information abounds, as Canadians are increasingly bombarded with unsolicited, often highly targeted marketing via phone, fax, mail, and now, e-mail. We are finding our confidential information published in print directories and available on-line to anyone with elementary computer hacking skills. Employees are being surreptitiously monitored. Many people are denied services on the basis of inaccurate information about them held by private companies. Most of the unauthorized data collection and trading goes on behind our backs, but the evidence of it is everywhere. It's time to act.
Control over one's personal information is a fundamental element of the broader right to privacy. Privacy is a fundamental element of free speech and democracy. Without privacy, individuals are stripped of their autonomy, dignity, and self-determination. It is critical that we establish now a comprehensive legal framework for privacy protection in this country. Bill C-54 is a key element of that broader framework.
Many of us would like to see stronger and more specific data protection rules than those set out in Bill C-54. However, we recognize that political and constitutional realities require compromise, and it is on this basis that we are urging you to see that the Bill is passed without any additional exceptions for certain business sectors or investigative agencies.
We are particularly concerned about proposed new clause 7(3)(c.1). This amendment would place an organization in the untenable position of having to choose between safeguarding the privacy of its clients/employees (which is the thrust of Bill C-54) and being a good corporate citizen by cooperating with law enforcement agencies. Police do not need this leeway - they can always access personal information through the use of warrant procedures.
Given the hidden nature of most privacy invasions, it is essential that the Privacy Commissioner be empowered to conduct random audits of private organizations. If anything, para.18(1) of the Bill should be strengthened by permitting spot checks. It certainly should not be weakened.
We are also very concerned about the suggestion from some quarters that Bill C-54 creates too onerous a regime for personal health records. Indeed, health records need stronger protections than those in Bill C-54. Until we have those stronger protections, health records should not be excluded from Bill C-54.
The urgency of the need for private sector data protection laws for consumers and employees cannot be overstated. Quebec is the only Canadian jurisdiction to have enacted such legislation - other Canadians deserve similar protections.
It is no coincidence that Bill C-54 has received wide-ranging support from responsible industry associations, independent experts, consumer advocates, and civil liberties groups. Effective data protection laws will level the playing field for responsible businesses vis-a-vis their non-compliant counterparts, will improve consumer confidence in electronic commerce, and will enhance trade opportunities with Europe. It is in everyone's long term interest that reasonable ground rules for the management of personal data are set out now. Those rules must be based on the fundamental right of individuals to exercise control over their personal information.
Please do your part to see that an effective Bill C-54 becomes law.
- B.C. Civil Liberties Association,
- Murray Mollard, (604) 687-2919
- B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association,
- Darrell Evans, (604) 739-9788, http://www.bccla.org
- Canada's Coalition for Public Information,
- Maureen Cubberley, (705) 382-3841
- Canadian Health Coalition,
- Mike McBane, (613) 521-3400 ext.308
- Consumers' Association of Canada,
- Jenny Hillard, (204) 452-2572, cell: (204) 794-6572
- Electronic Frontier Canada,
- David Jones, (905) 525-9140, ext. 24689, http://www.efc.ca/
- National Privacy Coalition,
- Tom Riley, (613) 236-7844
- Public Interest Advocacy Centre,
- Philippa Lawson, (613) 562-4002 ext.24, http://www.piac.ca
- University of Ottawa Human Rights Research and Education Centre,
- Valerie Steeves, (613) 721-8616