Appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Main Estimates 2009-2010

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May 25, 2009
Ottawa, Ontario

Statement by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)


Introduction

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you about the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s budget for 2009-2010 and the activities we will be undertaking over this fiscal year.

Constructive Relationship

I deeply appreciate the confidence Parliament has shown in my Office in a number of ways, including stabilizing our funding at an appropriate level. 

I also appreciate that our opinions are being sought as Parliamentarians debate issues that raise privacy concerns. Already this year, we have appeared before committees nine times, I’ve met with MPs from all parties in recent months and provided a briefing for one caucus. 

(A quick aside: Some MPs have suggested that their staff would appreciate information about privacy protection.  We’re looking for representatives from all parties to help us determine what would be most useful.) 

All of this is to say that we have built a very constructive relationship with Parliament.

Innovative Action

This is critical. Each day brings new risks for privacy as new information technologies develop and governments continue to react to the expanded threat of global terrorism.

We have recognized the need for an innovative and focused approach if we are to have any hope of keeping up with constantly evolving issues.

With this in mind, we have set five corporate priorities for 2009-2010:

  • To continue to improve service delivery through focus and innovation.
  • To enhance and sustain the organizational capacity.
  • To provide leadership to advance our priority privacy issues.
  • To strategically advance global privacy protection for Canadians.
  • And to support Canadians, organizations and institutions in making informed privacy decisions.

I’ll touch briefly on each of these priorities.

Service Delivery

Improving our service delivery to Canadians continues to be our most important priority.

In recent years, we have been challenged with increasingly complex investigations and a backlog of investigation files, while at the same time facing major difficulties in recruiting experienced investigators.  

In response, we have adopted a proactive, multi-pronged approach.

We’ve expanded our outreach efforts as a way to prevent and solve issues before they turn into complaints.  We’ve hired 20 new investigators who took part in an intensive two-month training program earlier this year. We’ve launched a major “backlog blitz.”

We’re also re-engineering our inquiries and complaint-handling processes for greater efficiency. These changes include a new position of complaints registrar to apply a form of triage to the issues that come our way. Wherever possible, complaints will also be referred to an early-resolution process to try to help individuals and companies resolve problems more expeditiously. 

Organizational Capacity

In a related vein, another corporate priority is to continue to build the required internal capacity to support our privacy protection and promotion activities.

The focus here is on recruitment and training as well as robust technology and integrative tools to increase information sharing between our branches.

I was very pleased to see that Treasury Board Secretariat’s recently released 2008 Public Service Employee Survey documented a high degree of commitment, engagement and professional satisfaction among our staff, who overwhelmingly believe they are working in a supportive, service-oriented organization.

I am also gratified to note that, with respect to the public service’s designated groups – women, Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and visible minorities – their representation in our Office exceeds the overall availability rate in the labour market.

Meantime, we continue to try to attract quality candidates for a range of positions in the organization – both from within the public service and without. In fact, we recently prepared a recruitment video for posting on YouTube, in the hopes of appealing to the tech-savvy younger generation.

Four Privacy Priorities

A third priority relates to a streamlining of our activities in order to focus on those of the greatest strategic importance and impact.

As you may recall, we have identified four pressing privacy issues that will receive priority attention from my Office: Information technology, national security, identity integrity and protection, and genetic information.

We have concluded that each of these areas is associated with significant risks for privacy, now and in the future.

Outreach

Our fourth corporate priority relates to outreach efforts aimed at equipping Canadians with the information and tools they need to understand and protect their privacy rights.

This includes a particular focus on youth privacy issues and social networking sites.

We are also working with organizations and institutions to help them better understand their privacy obligations. 

For example, we worked with our counterparts in B.C. and Alberta to develop guidance for retailers on the appropriate collection of driver’s licence information.

And we worked with Google, CanPages and three of our provincial counterparts in order to better protect the privacy of Canadians in the face of new street-level imaging technologies.

Global Protection

A final corporate priority is to strengthen our emphasis on international work.

Given how much personal information now circles the globe, it is clear that protecting the privacy of Canadians demands that we work with partners to develop a basic level of privacy protection around the world.

As such, we are taking part in numerous bilateral and multilateral efforts aimed at advancing global privacy protections.

I was especially pleased to note that the proposed Electronic Commerce Protection Act includes amendments to PIPEDA, our private-sector Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, that would promote greater collaboration with international authorities to better protect consumers from electronic victimization by e-mail spam, phishing and other attempts at fraud and identity theft. 

Conclusion

We have put in place a wide range of new initiatives and I expect the coming year to be one marked by substantial progress on all of our priorities.

Privacy challenges are constantly changing and increasingly complicated.  I am proud of the tenacious and creative way in which our talented team is working to fulfill the important mandate that Parliament has entrusted to our Office.

I welcome your questions?

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