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What’s in store for a new session of Parliament, Part 2

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With another federal election underway, a number of policy issues with privacy implications have been put on hold until after October 14. The debate over copyright was one of the most contentious issues before the House and certainly one that captured the interest of Canadians throughout the country. Before the election call, we received a letter from James Pew, a music studio owner in Toronto. He voices his concerns as a small business owner over the proposed copyright legislation, pointing out that it “does not take into account the needs of consumers and Canada’s creative community who are exploiting the potential of digital technology”. (You can view his full letter on his blog.)

Our office felt the need to respond to Mr. Pew, outlining our own concerns with the draft legislation – namely, that the use of digital rights management (DRM) software by copyright holders and customer tracking by ISPs largely ignores consumers’ privacy rights. Below is Commissioner Stoddart’s response to the letter in its entirety.

While the draft legislation died with the dissolution of Parliament and subsequent election call, we fully expect the copyright debate to pick up where it left off in the next session of Parliament.

Dear Mr. Pew,

Thank you for including me in recent correspondence with your Member of Parliament. In that letter, you put forth your impressions of amendments proposed this summer for Canada’s Copyright Act. I appreciate your thoughts and had some concerns of my own about Bill C-61.

My Office has been involved in the issue since similar amendments were proposed in 2005. In that instance, as with Bill C-61, the legislation died with an election call. However, the underlying issues still cause me some concern. As I explained in a letter to the responsible Ministers, as Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, two particular aspects of the legislation trouble me.

First, the amendments would allow companies to use digital rights management (DRM) software on media sold to Canadian consumers. These tools have been used in the past to collect personal information without users’ knowledge or consent. DRM software has also been shown to create other security problems. These practices largely ignore the principles found in Canada’s private-sector privacy legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. As a result, I have asked the Ministers who oversee the copyright file to consider the privacy implications of any new law. Our Office also prepared a primer on DRM, should you be interested.

Secondly, and perhaps even more serious, is the new role Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be required to play in tracking, recording and reporting on consumers. Most Canadians neither expect nor want routine, systematic surveillance bundled into their internet services. Casting such a wide dragnet over millions of subscribers – simply to ensure copyright compliance in isolated cases – seems to me grossly disproportional. This is particularly worrisome where the commercial interests of telecommunications companies converge with media producers, to the detriment of consumers’ privacy rights.

All this is to say, while I have been raising these issues within government and the wider public, I hope the current election will provide an opportunity for the various parties to clarify their position on these important matters. Again, thank you for your letter.

Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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