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Commissioner submits views to Privacy Act consultation and Access to Information Act review

March 31, 2021

Privacy Act Bulletins are intended to offer lessons learned, best practices and other important privacy news, trends and information related to privacy protection in the federal public sector. 

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has recently published submissions to two important government initiatives aimed at modernizing federal privacy and access laws.

Privacy Act public consultation

The OPC has recently released a submission setting out key recommendations in response to the Department of Justice’s consultation on modernizing Canada’s outdated federal public sector privacy law.

“We are very encouraged by the thoughtful and comprehensive consultation paper Justice published last November, which demonstrates the seriousness of the government’s intent for meaningful reform,” writes the OPC in its submission.

The submission also notes that the consultation document proposes substantive changes that represent significant strides toward a law in step with modern data protection norms.

The government’s discussion paper includes many proposals that could significantly improve the federal public sector privacy law to effectively address the modern needs of Canadians in relation to their privacy.

For example, it notably proposes adding a purpose clause to the Privacy Act that specifies that one of the key objectives of the legislation is “protecting individuals’ human dignity, personal autonomy, and self-determination”, thereby recognizing the broad scope of the right to privacy as a human right. It also proposes measures aimed at providing meaningful oversight and quick and effective remedies, such as order-making and expanded rights of recourse to Federal Court.

The OPC’s submission includes a number of recommendations aimed at improving the law, such as clarifying the concept of publicly available personal information and the “reasonably required” standard, adding provisions on automated decision-making and providing for responsible design and development of artificial intelligence.

Access to Information Act statutory review

Last month, the OPC sent a submission to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat in relation to a statutory review of the Access to Information Act (ATIA).

The review of the ATIA presents an opportunity to examine issues that lie at the intersection of both the ATIA and the Privacy Act.

“The ATIA and the Privacy Act both play a central role in preserving our information rights as our society becomes increasingly digital. Both laws are essential to fostering a more open, transparent government and upholding the tenets of democracy,” the submission notes.  

“Open government and increased transparency remain critical areas for government reform and Canadians certainly deserve both an open government and respect for their privacy rights.”

The submission identifies key areas where it will be important to review both Acts at same time, such as on common exemption and exclusion provisions, the definition of personal information, interpretations of publicly available and rationales for public interest exceptions.

Related content:

Submission on the Public Consultation on the Modernization of the Privacy Act
Submission on the statutory review of the Access to Information Act

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