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Do you resolve to protect your privacy in 2008?

OTTAWA, December 27, 2007 – Threats to the privacy rights of Canadians will intensify in 2008 unless organizations resolve to do more to protect personal information, warns Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart.

“Heightened national security concerns, the growing business appetite for personal information and technological advances are all potent – and growing – threats to privacy rights,” says Commissioner Stoddart. 

“The coming year will be another challenging one for privacy in Canada.”

With that prediction in mind, Commissioner Stoddart today released her 2008 list of top 10 suggested New Year’s resolutions for businesses, individuals and government.

Resolutions for businesses in Canada:

1. Protect personal information with strong security.

More than 162 million records were compromised by theft or loss in 2007, triple the number of data losses for the previous year, according to a USA Today analysis of breaches in the US, Canada and other countries.  This alarming trend can be reversed if businesses begin to recognize the value of personal information.  The disastrous breach involving Winner’s and HomeSense stores is an example of what can go wrong if businesses don’t invest in the latest security.

2. Use encryption to protect personal information on mobile devices such as laptops.

We are seeing too many headlines about personal information at risk because a laptop has been lost or stolen.  Organizations must ensure personal information on a mobile device is encrypted – protecting information stored on a laptop with a password is simply not enough.

3. Ensure credit card processing equipment masks complete card numbers on receipts.

Complete credit card numbers should not be printed on receipts for electronically processed transactions.  Businesses were supposed to switch to electronic processing equipment that masks card numbers – for example, by printing Xes – by the end of 2007.  Printing complete card numbers exposes customers to the risk of identity theft. (Some very small businesses may still be manually taking imprints of cards because it is not economically feasible for them to purchase electronic equipment. They should still take all steps necessary to protect the information they collect.)

Resolutions for Canadians:

4. Think twice before posting personal information on social networking sites.

Many Facebook and Myspace users think of these sites as private, when, in reality, the information they post can often be seen by just about anyone.  Before posting something, ask questions such as: How would I feel defending this comment or photo during a job interview five years from now?  Am I harming someone else or invading someone’s privacy by posting this comment, photo or video?  We like this simple rule of thumb: If Grandma shouldn't know, it shouldn't be posted.

5. Ask questions when someone asks for personal information.

It’s a good idea to understand why information such as your phone number or postal code, or driver’s licence  is being requested and how it will be used.  If you are concerned about receiving junk mail or telemarketing calls, decline to provide the information.  Canada’s privacy laws offer you a choice about providing personal information that is not necessary for a transaction.

6. Take steps to protect your personal information.

Invest in a good shredder or burn all documents that include your name, address, SIN, financial information or other sensitive personal information. Papers containing personal information don’t belong in the recycling bin.

Resolutions for the federal government:

7. Overhaul the no-fly list to ensure strong privacy protections for Canadians.

The no-fly list involves the secretive use of personal information in a way that has very serious impact on privacy and other human rights.  Innocent Canadians face the very real risk they will be stopped from flying because they’ve been incorrectly listed or share the name of someone on the list.

8. Move forward with proposed reforms to Canada’s privacy laws.

The federal government is currently holding consultations on important amendments to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).  These proposed changes include mandatory breach notification, a step that would encourage businesses to take security more seriously and protect Canadians against identity theft.

We also urge the federal government to open a review of the Privacy Act, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2008. Canadians should be offered the same level of legal protection under the Privacy Act as they have, as consumers, under PIPEDA.

9. Ensure that identity theft legislation is swiftly passed.

The government has introduced Criminal Code amendments to help police stop identity thieves or fraudsters before Canadians suffer actual financial harm.  The changes include explicit penalties for collecting, possessing and trafficking in personal information.

10. Develop anti-spam legislation.

Canada remains the only G-8 country without anti-spam legislation, raising the danger that we will become a harbour for spammers. Halting the proliferation of spam is another important measure necessary to address identity theft.

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

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For more information or interview requests, contact:

Colin McKay
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 995-0103
E-mail: cmckay@priv.gc.ca

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