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The digital age has brought us vast economic and social benefits. From
scientific innovation and market efficiencies to increased convenience
and opportunities for individuals, our new-found ability to harness the
power of information is transforming our world in many positive ways.
Personalized health care, free online services, and real-time urban
services like traffic management would not be possible without
significant advancements in computing power and the capacity to store
vast amounts of data and analyze it. On a more personal level, easy
access to knowledge and effortless means of communicating with
people around the globe are broadening our horizons.
At the same time, the pervasiveness of tracking individuals and their activities by commercial and government
organizations threatens our deeply held notions of privacy. The government is collecting ever increasing
amounts of data in support of national security initiatives with little oversight or transparency. In the private
sector, mobile devices have greatly increased the amount and sensitivity of personal information being
collected but these practices are generally opaque to consumers.
We find ourselves in a complex environment where we make daily tradeoffs between accessing digital services
and keeping our information private, often without fully appreciating the nature of the exchange. When it
comes to the government, we have no say in our information being collected. We can only trust government
to be sensitive to our right to privacy in the course of improving service delivery and making public policy
The push to collect and process unprecedented amounts of personal information is posing great challenges to
our existing frameworks for protecting privacy. For example, big data can lead to decisions about individuals
based on inaccurate or incomplete information with no individual awareness or means to seek recourse. The
risk of data breaches has risen considerably, calling for greater attention and ingenuity to be devoted to
Uncertainty as to whether privacy is being adequately protected would have the effect of undermining trust in
Canada’s technology sector as well as stifling business opportunities and innovation. It could also erode
commerce and trade and hamper Canada’s ability to compete on the global marketplace. It would be in all our
interests to ensure that Canada’s privacy protections remain relevant in the face of new and complex threats.
When I began my term as Privacy Commissioner of Canada, I said that my vision would be to improve the
control Canadians have over their personal information. My arrival at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner
of Canada coincided with the Office’s planned initiative to refresh our strategic outlook to better align with the
realities brought forth by our increasingly digital economy and society. This report summarizes the process we
followed, the comments we heard from interested parties, and what we decided our priorities will be for the
next few years. The new privacy priorities will help hone our focus to make best use of our limited resources,
to further our ability to inform Parliamentarians, and to protect and promote Canadians’ privacy rights.