Appearance before the Standing Committee On Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on the Study of the 2012-2013 Main Estimates

April 26, 2012
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)


Introduction

Mister Chair and Members of the Committee. It is my pleasure in this second hour to talk with you about some of our key priorities for the coming year and answer your questions.

Joining me today here again are Assistant Commissioner, Chantal Bernier, along with Daniel Nadeau, our Chief Financial Officer and Director-General of Corporate Affairs.

To begin, I want to explain the evolving landscape of privacy issues today and how public concern with them affects our Office’s work and choice of priorities.

For starters, as I think everyone around this table can appreciate, personal information protection is an issue of growing importance here in Canada and around the world.

Canadian businesses need to be informed of how privacy law applies to their operations and resulting best practices.

Federal departments and agencies are constantly challenged to balance the social benefits associated with initiatives that gather personal information on the one hand, with the privacy rights of individuals on the other. As an Agent of Parliament, my Office is charged with advising on such matters.

And of course, individuals themselves are concerned and passionate about privacy. Particularly today, they face the reality of complex information technologies.

People appreciate and enjoy the fact that these tools connect us like never before and bring invaluable services to our finger tips.

But at the same time, they fear the consequences of being tracked by data-mining marketers and being surveilled by governments.

As a result, Canadians turn to us to investigate complaints and for information to protect and assert their rights.

Key Areas of OPC’S Mandate

As you know, our Office is mandated with overseeing compliance with both the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

We also provide guidance to organizations on the application of privacy law and to individuals on how they can protect themselves and assert their rights.

As in past years, we will be pursuing these objectives through actions under three key areas:

  • Compliance activities;
  • Research and policy development; and
  • Public outreach.

Before we get to your questions, I would like to highlight some of the key priorities we are pursuing over the coming year for each.

Compliance Activities

Starting with our compliance activities, we are continuing work to update and strengthen our complaint intake and investigation processes.

In particular, we are in the midst of an effort to develop and adopt more innovative practices in the Privacy Act investigation process.

Our goal is to continue resolving complaints thoroughly with a view to providing service to Canadians in a more efficient, effective and timely manner.

We are also taking action to better deal with the fact that an increasing number of privacy issues are tied to information technology.

For this reason, we are taking steps to ensure we have the right expertise and tools to evaluate the privacy impact of various technologies.

On top of improving ways to do our existing work, we are also focusing on the best approach to fulfilling new responsibilities.

As you know, it is expected that Canada’s anti-spam law will come into force sometime next year.

And so, we are working alongside Industry Canada, the and Competition Bureau to develop the processes and systems to fulfill our respective roles under this legislation.

In addition, we are also gearing-up to review the privacy impact assessments tied to the many initiatives being developed across government to realize the vision outlined by the Canada-US Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan.

Our Office and our provincial and territorial counterparts have underlined the fact that many of the planned initiatives contain privacy risks.

Our Office is ready to examine the assessments to come, in order to make recommendations to departments on how to mitigate such risks.

With respect to audits, we will be completing our audit of Veterans Affairs Canada this fall, and have just commenced our second mandated audit of FINTRAC.

Research and Policy Development

Moving on now, I want to provide an overview of some of our research and policy development priorities.

As an Agent of Parliament, we will continue to devote our expertise to analyzing proposed legislation in order to provide Parliamentarians with insight on how it may affect privacy.

In addition to reviewing government legislation, we will be placing particular attention on the legislated Parliamentary review of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

A Parliamentary review of this legislation is mandated every five years and for good reason; just as our Office needs to adapt its efforts to meet the privacy needs of Canadians, so does the law itself.

Another way we help meet Canadians’ privacy needs is by working with leading academic researchers in the field.

One important way we do this is by supporting independent, non-profit research through our Contributions Program.

Over the course of this year, we look forward to supporting further work, which can lead to new ideas and insights on privacy issues.

Public Education

Finally, as privacy issues evolve, public education is vital.

Few of us can grasp the technological intricacies of what’s happening on the other side of the screen.

It is therefore more and more important to assist Canadians in protecting their personal information online.

The generation growing up today is really the first to grow up online. This is why our outreach efforts to youth, parents and educators remain among our top public education priorities.

We have already developed presentation materials for grades seven through 12 designed to help adults engage youth about the privacy challenges of today’s online world.

This year, we will be promoting materials for grades four through six. In addition to individuals, we know that businesses, especially smaller ones, have specific needs.

In general, small businesses lack the resources to have a dedicated in-house Chief Privacy Officer and legal counsel.

As a result, we are dedicated to providing guidance materials and making outreach efforts to help small businesses learn about and comply with their privacy obligations.

Included as part of this, we will be spreading the word about the importance of cyber security and the steps small businesses need to take to protect customer and client data in the online age.

In relation to the public sector, significant changes in our public safety context as well as in government interaction with citizens online, call for us to educate Canadians on the privacy implications of measures resulting from these changes.

Conclusion

In closing, let me underline that we will carry out our work in a way that will continue to see Canadians both well-respected as taxpayers and well-served as citizens.

While not mandated to make reductions under the Deficit Reduction Action Plan, our Office answered the call to adhere to the exercise’s spirit and intent.

As a result, we proposed to the government that we would find savings of 5% or $1.1M per year within our operations by fiscal year 2014-15 while maintaining the best possible level of service for Canadians. This proposal was accepted and was reflected in Budget 2012.

To deliver on this, we have planned the following reductions:

  • $676,000 - or 2.8 percent - starting this year will come from funding that had been allocated to us in support of the implementation of the Federal Accountability Act. This funding was never accessed by the OPC.
  • Then, an additional $430,000 - or 2.2 percent - starting in 2014-15 will be absorbed through general efficiencies from across the organization. Efforts to improve the use of technology and available tools, to take on a greater risk management approach, to better target public education activities and to seek out partnering opportunities will help OPC generate these savings.

In addition, I also want to note a looming cost pressure that poses a challenge to our quest for a workable balance between quality service and lower costs.

A forced move of the OPC to new offices in 2013 will result in additional costs of up to $5 million. Right now, we cannot absorb this without significant impact on our core programs.

We are currently negotiating with the Treasury Board Secretariat to address this pressure, and I am hopeful this issue will be settled adequately in the very near future.

With that, I look forward to your questions.

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