Appearance before House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Supplementary Estimates (B) 2014-15

November 27, 2014
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Daniel Therrien
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)


Introduction

Good afternoon Mister Chair and members of the Committee.

I thank you for the opportunity to address our requests under Supplementary Estimates and any questions you may have.

Joining me today is Daniel Nadeau, our Chief Financial Officer and Patricia Kosseim, our Senior-General Counsel.

I would like to begin by explaining our requests, and I will subsequently discuss some of our short-term priority issues.

Returning money associated with the OPC’s move

First, let me explain the reason behind what is, in effect, a reinjection of almost $59,000 into our budget.

As explained to this Committee by my predecessor, our Office made a mandatory move from Ottawa to a new facility in Gatineau in February 2014.

The move’s costs were forecasted mainly based on estimates provided by Public Works and Government Services Canada. To cover them, the Office needed to obtain a $4.1 million interest free loan from the Fiscal Framework negotiated through the Treasury Board Secretariat and Department of Finance. We are repaying this loan over 15 years, ending in 2028-29.

The most recent Main Estimates reflected our first payment in 2014-15 of some $275,000.   

Since that time however, the move’s costs came in lower than expected.

As a result, we returned nearly $900,000 to the Fiscal Framework and our annual repayment figure decreased by some $59,000.

And it is this latter figure which, in essence, would be returned to our Office, and be reinvested in our program activities.

Transfer to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

I’ll now move on to the other item for which we made a submission.

As you know, our Office is one of three partners, along with the Competition Bureau and Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) mandated with enforcing Canada’s anti-spam law.

Our enforcement responsibilities under this law relate to: the harvesting of electronic addresses, in which bulk lists of email addresses are compiled for use by spammers; and the collection of personal information by accessing computer systems, primarily through what’s known as spyware.

In order to gather reports and intelligence regarding these and other activities under the legislation, the government decided to create the Spam Reporting Centre, which is managed by the CRTC.

You may remember that it was the government’s initial plan to outsource the management of this Centre to a private sector operator.

However, no compliant bids were received so the CRTC stepped up to take on the role.

The CRTC also sought assistance from partners to support the Centre’s analytical functions. As a result, in 2011 it was agreed that our Office would fund an analyst position at the Centre, and to that end, we signed a two-year administrative arrangement in early 2014.

The $125,000 we are transferring to the CRTC pays for an analyst to work on our behalf at the Centre. And this analyst was in place for CASL’s “coming into force” in July.

Now that the Centre is operational Canadians have been able to submit reports about unsolicited commercial electronic messages received.

The analyst’s work has greatly assisted our Office in identifying purveyors of address harvesting.

In fact, this work has already contributed to identifying potential address harvesting cases for investigation.

Privacy in our evolving digital world

Let me now turn to explaining how I plan to align OPC priorities to the new realities brought forth by the emergence of today’s increasingly digital economy and society.

The digital revolution has truly opened-up a new world; one of new technologies that have the potential of bringing benefits to us all.

But this new world also comes with new risks for privacy.

Take, for instance, the issue of Big Data.

Rapidly increasing computing power and analytics capacity may help better identify threats and solutions to public health or emergency issues.

But it can also lead to decisions about individuals based on inaccurate or incomplete information or data that people may have provided for a different purpose altogether.

On top of this, while more information than ever before is being collected and processed, this raises the risks of data breaches, calling for greater attention and ingenuity being devoted to cybersecurity.

These are just a few of the rather complex issues confronting our Office, organizations and individuals.

Given our rapidly changing environment, we are embarking on an exercise to establish new privacy priority issues to meet the most pressing privacy challenges.

In this exercise, our Office will be engaging representatives from business, government, civil society and academia. We will also be consulting focus groups to gauge the views of the general public.

The new privacy priorities resulting from the process will help hone our focus to: make best use of our limited resources; and further our ability to inform Parliamentarians and protect and promote Canadians’ privacy rights.

I expect that this process will be complete by spring 2015, and I look forward to sharing our outcomes with Parliamentarians.

Conclusion

Mister Chair and Members, let me conclude now by underlining what lays at both the core of our work and of privacy, overall.

While the world around is rapidly changing, the value of privacy remains timeless.

This is central to Canada’s privacy laws and therefore, to our priority-setting exercise.

I want to ensure that we stay ahead of the curve in a complex and quickly changing world, so we can ensure Canadians can exercise some control over their personal information.

This will enable them to partake in the digital economy as informed and confident consumers, embracing new innovation with trust rather than trepidation.

Rather than an impediment, effective privacy protection can and should be an enabler of innovation.

It is my hope and ambition that the work of our Office will be as effective as possible in helping organizations mitigate the risks of this new world in order to maximize its many opportunities.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

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