Public opinion survey

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Canadians, Privacy, and Emerging Issue

Submitted to:
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

EKOS Research Associates


Outline of Report

This report has seven sections:


Research Methodology

The findings in this report are based on a 11 minute telephone survey with a national random sample of 1,010 Canadians, aged 16 and over:

  • The questionnaire was pre-tested on March 16th, 2005, leading to some small revisions in the questionnaire.
  • The survey was conducted between March 17th and 30th, 2005.
  • Results of the survey are weighted by age, gender and region to ensure they are representative of the Canadian public.
  • The margin of error is +/-3.1 % points, 19 times out of 20.

Overview of Key Findings

  • Over the past fifteen years, there have continued to be a number of changes on the broad privacy landscape in terms of Canadians’ attitudes.
  • Throughout the 1990s, Canadians’ broad concerns with privacy dropped on many fronts (although concerns still remained).
  • In the first decade of the 2000s concerns however have been rising again and now rival concerns from the early 1990’s (albeit different in character).
  • Over this time, Canadians’ concerns have increasingly shifted in nature. While originally more centred around concerns about physical/personal intrusions, Canadians’ privacy concerns have become more centred around issues relating to their personal information.
  • Most recently, Canadians’ sense of erosion of their privacy and the protection of their personal information is very high.

Overview of Key Findings (b)

  • It is noteworthy that while protecting privacy and protecting the personal information of Canadians are largely the same thing for many Canadians, the usage of the two terms in the survey does generate some differences (although they are not always the same direction). In broad terms relating to having less privacy or less protection of personal information today, concerns are higher for the latter.
    • The percentage agreeing that they have less personal privacy in their daily life than they did 10 years ago is the highest level EKOS has observed – a view held by more than 6 in 10 Canadians.
    • Canadians are even more likely to believe that they have less protection of their personal information compared to the same time frame – a view held by more than 7 in 10.
  • At the same time, Canadians express rising concern with privacy issues looking forward. Seven in ten (70 per cent) agree that protecting the personal privacy of Canadians will be “one of the most important issues facing the country, similar to the 69 per cent holding this view in 2001. In contrast to the broader perceptions, Canadians are a little less likely to attach the same degree of importance when the same question involved the alternate wording “protecting the personal information of Canadians (67 per cent agreeing with the comparable statement).

Overview of Key Findings (c)

  • There continues to be a broad consensus that strong laws are crucial to protect Canadians’ privacy and their personal information.
  • That being said, there is a huge gap between the perceived importance of the issue and laws and basic awareness.
    • About 3 in 4 Canadians agree on the need for strong laws.
    • However, only 1 in 5 have a “clear“ awareness of privacy laws (which is undoubtedly overstating their true fluency levels). This is evident by the fact that a large degree of those with awareness are unable to name any specific legislation.
  • The challenge – the key issue of growing concern to virtually everyone but a scant minority having awareness of laws. Awareness of federal institutions is even lower with only 7 per cent reporting “clear” awareness.
    • Unprompted awareness of the OPC remains low.

Overview of Key Findings (d)

  • Although knowledge levels are quite limited there has been a modest but significant rise in (claimed) understanding of privacy rights over the past four years.
  • Compared to many other policy issues, the privacy field is seen as being far more of a moving target as changing technologies shift the nature and status of this area. In fact, 9 in 10 Canadians see a need for ongoing updating of privacy legislation to keep pace with these changes.
  • The issue of cross-border transfer of personal information is an example of how privacy laws have not kept pace completely with how changing technologies have changed the way in which companies use and transfer Canadians’ personal information.
  • As a starting point, it is worth noting that most Canadians believe that governments do not have a good understanding of how companies use personal information on Canadians today.

Overview of Key Findings (e)

  • When it comes to the issue of cross-border transfer of personal information, it is evident that there is a pervasive belief that personal information is flowing freely to other countries – particularly to the United Sates, although to “other countries” as well.
    • This is particularly true in relation to companies transferring personal information on their customers to companies outside Canada.
    • While slightly less pervasive, the majority of Canadians still perceive that their personal information held on them by governments is also flowing across borders.
  • The level of concern with the cross-border of transfer of personal information is extremely high. Only about 1 in 10 Canadians express low concern in the event that Canadians’ personal information was to be transferred across borders.
  • While concern is somewhat lower if the transfer of personal information relates to national security, concerns are high for high concern for any of these activities – regardless of the purpose/rationale.

Overview of Key Findings (f)

  • Virtually all Canadians want to not only be informed of transfers of personal info outside the country but they would also demand their permission.
  • Somewhat surprisingly the insistence on consent is even more important than merely being notified. Although there is greater receptivity comfort with governments than private sector transferring information across borders, the Canadian public’ response is not to do it without first obtaining their informed consent.
  • When it comes to technology, Canadians are less confident that they know enough about how it can impact their privacy.
    • The percentage of Canadians expressing confidence in this area is the lowest EKOS has observed, and now is less than one in two (47 per cent, down 7 percentage points from 2003).
    • A strong majority also believe that there is “no real privacy/protection of their personal information” due to technology making it easier for governments and companies to keep track of Canadians.

Overview of Key Findings (g)

  • Despite concerns...
    • Canadians are divided on whether or not the consequences of technology on their privacy/protection of personal information are overblown (although the latter is more likely to generate concerns).
    • A small, but significant minority of Canadians – about 3 in 10 – are willing to allow a company to track how they shop for a discount on products/services they buy in return.
  • Significant agreement that Canadians should be notified about the privacy implications of the products and services they buy.
  • Reported awareness of various newer technologies is moderate to high, although likely overstated and not necessarily involving a true understanding of the privacy implications of the various technologies.

Overview of Key Findings (g)

  • In conclusion, it is important to recognize that the privacy landscape will continue to evolve in the face of new and emerging threats to Canadians’ privacy, and as privacy laws continue to change/get updated. The cross-border transfer of personal information is no doubt a complex policy issue, involving both important privacy, economic, national security and other considerations. And while Canadians have an appreciation of the importance of trade issues, they also clearly express concerns over their personal information being transferred across borders. This is a key issue that is a work in progress both in terms of understanding its full impact on Canadians and the way it should be addressed to ensure the protection of their personal information.

Broad Attitudes

Erosion of personal privacy

I feel I have less personal privacy in my daily life than I did ten years ago.

Erosion of personal privacy

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=517)


Erosion of personal privacy (b)

I feel I have less personal privacy in my daily life than I did ten years ago.*

Erosion of personal privacy (b)

I feel I have less protection of my personal information in my daily life than I did ten years ago.*

Erosion of personal privacy (b)

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Importance of privacy looking forward

Protecting the personal privacy of Canadians will be one of the most important issues facing our country in the next ten years.*

Importance of privacy looking forward

Protecting the personal information of Canadians will be one of the most important issues facing our country in the next ten years.*

Importance of privacy looking forward

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Privacy Laws

Importance of privacy laws

How important is it to you personally to have strong laws to protect Canadians' personal privacy?*

Importance of privacy laws

How important is it to you personally to have strong laws to protect Canadians' personal information?*

Importance of privacy laws

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Awareness of privacy laws

Awareness of privacy laws

Q: Are you aware of any laws that help Canadians deal with privacy and the protection of personal information?

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010)


Laws Canadians are aware of

Laws Canadians are aware of

Q: Which laws are you aware of?

(BASE: Those report "vague" to "clear" awareness of privacy laws; Mar. 05, n=490)


Awareness of federal privacy institutions

Awareness of federal privacy institutions

Q: Are you aware of any federal institutions that help Canadians deal with privacy and the protection of personal information?

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010)


Federal Institutions Canadians are aware of

Federal Institutions Canadians are aware of

Q: Which federal institutions are you aware of?

(BASE: Those report "vague" to "clear" awareness of federal institutions; Mar. 05, n=217)


Understanding of privacy rights

Understanding of privacy rights

Q: How would you rate your knowledge of your privacy rights under the various federal and provincial laws protecting your personal information?

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010)


Perceptions of privacy laws

Compared to ten years ago, it is more important that Canadian privacy laws are updated regularly to ensure they are keeping up with new technologies that may impact personal information.

Perceptions of privacy laws

When it comes to privacy laws, I think that governments have a good understanding of how companies use personal information on Canadians today.

Perceptions of privacy laws

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010)


Transfer of personal information

Extent of transfer of personal information

Canadian companies transfer personal information on customers to companies in the United States?*

Extent of transfer of personal information

Canadian companies transfer personal information on customers to companies in other countries?*

Extent of transfer of personal information

Q: To what extent do ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Extent of transfer of personal information (b)

Canadian government agencies transfer citizen personal information to foreign governments in order to deliver programs and services like public pensions?*

Extent of transfer of personal information (b)

Canadian government agencies transfer citizen personal information to foreign governments in order to protect national security?*

Extent of transfer of personal information (b)

Q: To what extent do ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Extent of transfer of personal information (c)

Canadian government agencies transfer personal information on citizens by outsourcing work to companies in Canada who conduct business on the government's behalf?*

Extent of transfer of personal information (c)

Canadian government agencies transfer personal information on citizens by outsourcing work to companies in the United States who conduct business on the government's behalf?*

Extent of transfer of personal information (c)

Q: To what extent do ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Concern re. transfer of personal information

Canadian companies transfer personal information on customers to companies in the United States?*

Concern re. transfer of personal information

Canadian companies transfer personal information on customers to companies in other countries?*

Concern re. transfer of personal information

Q: How concerned would you be if ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Concern re. transfer of personal information (b)

Canadian government agencies transfer citizen personal information to foreign governments in order to deliver programs and services like public pensions?*

Concern re. transfer of personal information (b)

Canadian government agencies transfer citizen personal information to foreign governments in order to protect national security?*

Concern re. transfer of personal information (b)

Q: How concerned would you be if ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Concern re. transfer of personal information (c)

Canadian government agencies transfer personal information on citizens by outsourcing work to companies in Canada who conduct business on the government's behalf?*

Concern re. transfer of personal information (c)

Canadian government agencies transfer personal information on citizens by outsourcing work to companies in the United States who conduct business on the government's behalf?*

Concern re. transfer of personal information (c)

Q: How concerned would you be if ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Importance of notification of transfer

If a Canadian company transfers your personal information to a company in the United States?*

Importance of notification of transfer

If a Canadian company transfers your personal information to companies in other countries?*

Importance of notification of transfer

Q: How important would it be to you personally to know ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Importance of notification of transfer (b)

If a Canadian government agency transfers your personal information to a company in Canada who is conducting business on their behalf?*

Importance of notification of transfer (b)

If a Canadian government agency transfers your personal information to a company in the United States who is conducting business on their behalf?*

Importance of notification of transfer (b)

Q: How important would it be to you personally to know ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Importance of notification of transfer (c)

If a Canadian government agency transfers your personal information to a foreign government in order to deliver programs and services like public pensions?*

Importance of notification of transfer (c)

If a Canadian government agency transfers your personal information to a foreign government in order to protect national security?*

Importance of notification of transfer (c)

Q: How important would it be to you personally to know ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Importance of notification of transfer (d)

If a Canadian airline transfers your personal information to a foreign government when you fly to that country?*

Importance of notification of transfer (d)

Q: How important would it be to you personally to know ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Importance of consent and ability to view/correct

An individual's consent be required before a company can transfer personal information on customers to a company in another country?*

Importance of consent and ability to view/correct

Individuals are able to view and correct their personal information transferred by the Government of Canada to other countries?*

Importance of consent and ability to view/correct

Q: On the same scale, how important is it that ...

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Technology and Personal Information

Know enough to protect information online

I feel confident that I have enough information to know how new technologies might affect my personal privacy.

Know enough to protect information online

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010)


Technology and perceptions of government "tracking"

There is no real privacy because technology has made it too easy for governments to keep track of people.*

Technology and perceptions of government 'tracking'

There is no real protection of personal information because technology has made it too easy for companies to keep track of people.*

Technology and perceptions of government 'tracking'

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Perceptions of negative consequence

I think the claims about the negative consequences of technology on personal privacy are overblown.*

Perceptions of negative consequence

I think the claims about the negative consequences of technology on the protection of personal information are overblown.*

Perceptions of negative consequence

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010, * ½ sample)


Technology and privacy

I would be willing to allow a company to track how I shop in order to receive a discount on products or services I buy.

Technology and privacy

I should be informed by companies about the potential privacy risks associated with the products or services I buy.

Technology and privacy

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010)


Awareness of tracking technology

Awareness of tracking technology

Q: Have you heard of any of the following technologies?

(BASE: All Canadians; Mar. 05, n=1010)


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