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The role of identity in society and the privacy issues related to identity: A discussion paper

OTTAWA, January 21, 2008 – Identity issues are poorly understood by all but a relatively small community of experts, and this is having an impact on how Canadians react to proposals for increased security measures, notes Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

“There is a tug-of-war between efforts to protect the privacy of Canadians and the encroachment of a ‘surveillance society’,” says Commissioner Stoddart. “Canadians need to understand the central role identity plays in this battle.”

As computing power grows exponentially, it is becoming easier for companies and governments to collect personal information, analyze it, and develop a sophisticated database on individual Canadians.

“We each have to be aware of the information we make available to companies and governments, and the information that is already available in public and private databases,” says Commissioner Stoddart.

Today the Commissioner released Identity, Privacy and the Need of Others to Know Who You Are, a discussion paper that hopes to inform Canadians about the role of identity in society and the privacy issues related to identity.

The paper describes the core concepts of identity, including identification, authentication, attributes, common identifiers and tokens.

With this information, Canadians can begin to evaluate critical issues that will affect their lives – such as a proposal for a national identification card. Several of the proposals for such a card being discussed in jurisdictions around the world would make it far easier to track individuals – is this loss of privacy a reasonable cost to pay for the promised benefits of a national identification card?

This discussion paper is one component of the work being undertaken on identity issues by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, both in Canada and internationally. For example, we are contributing to the work of the ISO Working Group on Identity Management and Privacy Technologies, as well as several other international working groups.

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman, advocate and guardian of privacy and the protection of personal information rights of Canadians.

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For more information or interview requests, contact:

Colin McKay
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 995-0103
E-mail: cmckay@priv.gc.ca