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Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
November 15, 2005
Opening Statement by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada
(CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY)
Thank you for inviting us to appear before you to discuss the Supplementary Estimates for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. With me today is Tom Pulcine, Director General, Corporate Services.
A bit over three weeks ago, we met with this Committee to review my Office's Annual Reports. I appreciated the open and frank discussion we had at that time. Today, I want to focus on how our Office is funded, and why it is important to put in place permanent and predictable funding for our operations.
How is the Office funded?
When we appeared before you last May on the Main Estimates, we provided you with an overview of our rather peculiar funding situation. I think it is a message that bears repeating today, in part because it is a situation that we hope to have resolved shortly.
Why is our funding situation so "unique"? Because the Supplementary Estimates are such a fundamental source of the total funding for our operations.
Our Office's total operating budget is approximately $10.8 million. Funding of $4.7 million for requirements under the Privacy Act is provided to us through Main Estimates, while funding of $6.0 million for PIPEDA is provided through Supplementary Estimates. There are also other minor adjustments included in the Supplementary Estimates.
Now as you can see from these numbers, about 60 percent of our total budget allocation — the part targeted for PIPEDA — comes to us by way of the Supplementary Estimates.
As you know, Parliament may approve additional expenditures set out in Supplementary Estimates, should the amounts voted under Main Estimates prove insufficient. But the "Sups" — as they are commonly called — are not meant to contribute to the "core" financing of departmental or agency operations. Yet, this is exactly what is happening at the OPC.
We have distributed a table which you should have before you and which summarizes this unusual funding situation.
It is important for you to note that although our Office receives its funding through both the Main Estimates and Supplementary Estimates, from a management perspective, we do not separate resource allocation under each Act.
Both the $4.7 million and the $6.0 million are consolidated, and this sum of money is allocated in support of our planned strategic outcomes under both Acts.
I would like to now turn your attention to the multi-faceted nature of our mandate, another rather singular aspect of our operations.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner is unique when compared to other Officers of Parliament in that it has responsibility for two Acts: the Privacy Act which applies to federal institutions, and PIPEDA which governs personal information management in commercial activities. Also, contrary to other Officers of Parliament, the OPC is the only one to have a broad private sector mandate.
As an independent ombudsman, we are:
- an investigator and auditor;
- a public educator and advocate;
- a researcher and expert advisor to Parliament on privacy issues; and
- a legal advisor involved in litigation concerning the application and interpretation of the two privacy laws.
This multi-facetted aspect of our operations manifests itself in a number of ways at the OPC. Perhaps a brief description of a real-life issue that has occupied my Office for some time now can best illustrate this point.
Transnational Flow of Personal Information
As you know, Canadians are becoming increasingly preoccupied with where their personal data is going abroad, and how it can be accessed from abroad and why.
My Office too has been following developments concerning the transnational flow of personal information with keen interest. And keeping track of these developments has required the involvement of virtually every part of my organization.
In the audit field, our Office has undertaken a scoping review of the Canadian Border Services Agency's multiple programs and information management activities. We expect our audit report on this matter to be completed by early 2006.
In the inquiries and investigations field, my Office received a number of complaints after the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) sent a notification to its VISA customers in the fall of 2004, amending its credit cardholder agreement. The notification referred to the use of a service provider located in the United States and the possibility that U.S. law enforcement or regulatory agencies might be able to obtain access to cardholders' personal information under U.S. law. Our Legal Branch helped advise the investigation into this matter. We concluded that PIPEDA requires Canadian companies who send personal information abroad to protect it with comparable protections.
On the research and policy front, we have worked with Treasury Board to strengthen privacy protections in the outsourcing process. Through its work on the policy suite, Treasury Board is striving to improve the privacy management practices of the federal government. It recently issued a guidance document to help federal managers mitigate the risk to personal data resulting from outsourcing. We will continue to advocate such improvements and we intent to monitor compliance with privacy principles.
We have also appeared numerous times before Parliamentary Committees to provide our expert advice on the transnational flow of personal information.
And my staff and I must regularly attend international gatherings of privacy experts to keep abreast of new developments in the field of transnational flow of personal data — most recently at the OECD.
Finally, in the public education field, my Office has received over the past year numerous citizen and media inquiries on the transnational flow of personal information. And as an aside, I should like to point out that our web site provides and indicator of our success in communicating to the Canadian public on key privacy issues, with nearly one million visits in 2004-05.
The transnational flow of personal information is one example where the multi-facetted "personality" of my Office manifests itself. But it is only one example. There are many others.
The Importance of Permanent Funding
And so, given our multi-facetted approach to dealing with privacy challenges, it is all the more important for our Office to acquire permanent, stable and predictable funding.
We devoted a considerable amount of time and energy over the past year to preparing a full-fledged business case for all of our operations. We have completed reports on this matter and submitted them to Treasury Board. And in two days, we will be submitting our business case to the Advisory Panel on the Funding of Officers of Parliament.
Many of the members of this Committee are members of that panel, and so I look forward to meeting you again shortly to discuss this matter.
I appreciate your interest in the work of my Office, and would now welcome any questions you may have.
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