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Some of the privacy issues to be highlighted at the 29th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners include:

The Surveillance Society
New technologies make it possible to track virtually our every movement.  Computer and wireless tracking such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), automatic number plate recognition and highly sophisticated surveillance cameras are increasingly being used to monitor our movements as we go about our daily lives as citizens, employees, consumers, travelers and patients.  Privacy advocates around the world are raising increasingly urgent questions about these technologies.  Are our GPS-equipped cars becoming Big Brother?  Do we want to live in a world where billions of RFID chips allow anyone with the right database to find out where everyone and everything is at any point in time?  Under what conditions – if any – should people be implanted with RFID chips?  Are we indeed, as some have said, sleepwalking our way into a surveillance society?

Developments in nanotechnology – technology involving materials far smaller than a grain of sand – will revolutionize surveillance capacities and the power to swiftly process vast amounts of information.  Nanotechnology could make surveillance invisible.  For example, “smart dust” – tiny wireless sensors too small to see – could eventually track the movements of anything, including people.  Meanwhile, researchers foresee a day when nanotech microchips implanted into people will dispense prescription drugs and provide “assisted cognition” to those suffering from Alzheimer’s.  Some have raised concerns about the potential for the same technology to be used to control and monitor prison inmates, parolees, welfare recipients, children and workers.

Radio Frequency Identification
RFID is one of the world’s fastest growing technologies.  These tiny wireless tracking chips – which some call “spychips” – are rapidly becoming a part of many routine activities.  They allow for automated access to offices, speedy library check-outs, automated road toll payments, hospital asset tracking and warehouse management.  We could soon see the technology used for automated check-outs at grocery stores. People have already been implanted with RFIDs for various purposes: to give doctors a way to quickly access medical information; for security access and even by nightclubs to automatically bill customers’ drinks.  The privacy implications are significant. RFIDs will make it easier for corporations to track what we buy and for government authorities to monitor more of our activities.

Children’s Privacy
Children growing up in an age of the Internet and social networking sites live in a much different privacy environment than their parents grew up in.  Privacy policies on websites popular with children are often writing in university-level language.  Children’s personal information is being gathered over the Internet.  There is a burgeoning trade in children’s information – including the names and addresses of hundreds of thousands of pre-schoolers – in North America.  Older children are also exploring a new world of social interaction and self expression on the Internet – and are more and more often getting stung by the privacy perils implicit in taking their personal lives online. Privacy advocates and academics are only beginning to examine how to help young people filter their online communications so they won’t run into trouble.

Transborder Data Flows
The personal information of tens of thousands of people can now be sent spiralling around the world at the touch of a button.  Sending personal data across borders for processing or as part of public security information sharing arrangements has profound implications for privacy.  Once information leaves a country, it becomes subject to the laws of a foreign country, including search and seizure laws.  There is a risk foreign governments and agencies could use this information in ways that could harm law-abiding Canadians.  Privacy commissioners and others are searching for international solutions to these challenges, in large part through a significant OECD effort to address cross-border issues related to effective enforcement of privacy laws.

Conference participants will also share ideas on a host of other important privacy issues, including data mining, Internet crime, genetic research and bio-banking, international privacy standards and privacy audits.

The conference is bringing together the who’s who of the privacy world, offering a unique opportunity to interview leading international experts on a wide range of emerging privacy issues.

For more information see the conference program and speakers list, or contact:

Colin McKay
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 995-0103 

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