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Privacy Commissioner expresses support for government's new strategy to deal with trans-border flows of personal information

Ottawa, April 6, 2006 –The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, today congratulated the Government of Canada for its Federal Strategy to Address Concerns about the USA PATRIOT Act and Transborder Data Flows, which was officially launched last week by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

“This comprehensive strategy is a positive step toward addressing Canadians’ concerns about the flow of their personal information across borders and the possible privacy risks posed by foreign legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act,” said Ms. Stoddart. “The relationship between national security, law enforcement and informational privacy is constantly shifting, but Canadians should still expect a reasonable standard of protection of their personal information. They do not want to see governments or organizations in Canada transferring their information across borders, whether for security or for other purposes, if it will be put at risk of inappropriate disclosure. This strategy recognizes privacy as a fundamental right for Canadians.”

Since early 2004, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC), along with other provincial and territorial privacy commissioners, has been calling for a greater dialogue between different levels of government, the private sector and the public to work together to address the risks associated with cross-border exchanges of personal information. The OPC made a submission to an inquiry which was led by BC Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis into this matter and recommended a number of practical measures for citizens, companies and governments to better manage the cross-border flow of information.

One of the key documents released by the Treasury Board Secretariat last week is a set of guidelines for government institutions. They provide rules for outsourcing activities in which personal information about Canadians is handled or accessed by private sector agencies under contract. Canadians can take comfort that under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the federal law governing the collection, use and disclosure of personal information in the course of commercial activities, private sector organizations are required to protect personal information that is in their custody, whether the data remains in Canada or is transferred to foreign jurisdictions.

Though having a federal strategy and policies to deal with the issue of trans-border flows of personal information in the private sector are certainly both welcome and useful, reforming the public sector Privacy Act would go much further in strengthening the federal privacy regime. The Privacy Act is a first generation privacy law that has not been substantially amended since it came into force in 1983. When it comes to issues related to globalization and the extensive outsourcing of personal information processing and storage, the law governing privacy in the public sector lags woefully behind.  The OPC is once again urging the government to initiate a review of the Privacy Act in the context of its commitment to strengthen the overall accountability regime of the federal government.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman, advocate and guardian of the privacy and protection of personal information rights of Canadians.

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The government’s strategy and policies mentioned above can be found on the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat Web site at www.tbs-sct.gc.ca.

Additional information on the issue of trans-border flows of personal information can also be found in the Key Issues section of the Web site of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada at www.priv.gc.ca.

For more information, please contact:

Florence M.C. Nguyen
Media Relations
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 943-0025
E-mail: fnguyen@priv.gc.ca

Anne-Marie Hayden
Director, Public Education and Communications
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 995-0103
E-mail: ahayden@priv.gc.ca
www.priv.gc.ca

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