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Canadians need to take control of their online personal information: Privacy Commissioner

Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s annual report focuses on importance of making informed choices about sharing personal information online.

OTTAWA, October 6, 2009 — As more and more Canadians live their lives online, the Privacy Commissioner is cautioning them to take greater responsibility for securing their privacy and thinking twice about what they post on the Internet.

“Many young people are choosing to open their lives in ways their parents would have thought impossible and their grandparents unthinkable. Their lives play out on a public stage of their own design as they strive for visibility, connectedness and knowledge,” says Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

“Such openness can lead to greater creativity, literacy, networking and social engagement. But putting so much of their personal information out into the open can also … leave an enduring trail of embarrassing moments that could haunt them in future,” the Commissioner says in her annual report to Parliament, which was tabled today.

The Commissioner’s 2008 Annual Report to Parliament on the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) highlights the issue of youth privacy.  It also looks at 2008 privacy complaint investigations; technology and privacy issues; and the Commissioner’s efforts to encourage the development of international privacy standards.

Commissioner Stoddart noted that many people have been fired, missed out on job interviews and academic opportunities, and been suspended from school for instant messages, wall posts and other types of online correspondence they mistakenly thought were private conversations with friends.

There is also a risk that unguarded personal information could be exploited by identity thieves.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner recently completed an investigation into the privacy policies and practices of the popular social networking site Facebook.  While that investigation focused on Facebook’s obligations under Canadian privacy law, the Commissioner emphasized at the time that, with nearly 12 million Canadians on Facebook, it’s also important for users to adopt the appropriate privacy settings and to understand how their personal information may be used or shared online.

The Privacy Commissioner’s Office has made online youth privacy a key priority, using contests, communications materials and a dedicated youth privacy website to reach out to young people and to encourage them to reflect on privacy issues and to “Think Before You Click.”

“As Canada’s privacy guardian, it is our role to create awareness of privacy risks, show people how to address those risks, and make it easy for them to make informed decisions,” says Commissioner Stoddart.

Adds Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Denham: “We’re not suggesting the clock be turned back; we just want to ensure Canadians have the information they need to make more privacy-conscious decisions.”

The annual report, available on the OPC website at www.priv.gc.ca, includes details of complaints received and investigated by the Office in 2008. 

The OPC received 422 new PIPEDA-related complaints for investigation in 2008, ending a downward trend that had lasted for several years. In 2007, there had been 350 complaints, fewer than half the 723 received in 2004.

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, contact:

Anne-Marie Hayden
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel: (613) 995-0103
E-mail: Anne-Marie.Hayden@priv.gc.ca

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