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Commissioner seeks public input on consent

TORONTO, May 11, 2016 – New technologies and business models are raising important questions about how Canadians can meaningfully exercise their right to consent to the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information, says Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien.

“The fast-paced evolution of the digital economy due to constant technological innovation has fundamentally changed the privacy landscape,” says Commissioner Therrien. 

“Gone are the days of routine, predictable, and transparent one-on-one interactions with companies. It is no longer entirely clear who is processing our data and for what purposes – creating challenges for meaningful consent,” he says.

“The time has come to seriously address the practical challenges with the current consent model under Canada’s federal private sector privacy law and how it might be better supported or enhanced.”

Commissioner Therrien made the remarks today during a keynote address at an International Association of Privacy Professionals conference in Toronto, where he announced the launch of a public discussion around these challenges as well as potential improvements to the current consent model. 

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has released a discussion paper on consent and a notice of consultation, inviting organizations, individuals, academics, advocacy groups, IT specialists, educators and other interested parties to comment.

The paper notes that organizations are required under Canada’s federal private sector privacy law to obtain individuals’ consent to lawfully collect, use and disclose personal information. However, technology and business models have changed so significantly since the law was drafted that many are calling into question the feasibility of obtaining meaningful consent.

Research suggests, for example, that it would take 244 hours – roughly equivalent to 33 work days – to read all of the privacy policies and related legalese that the average Internet user encounters online each year. Not surprisingly, many people simply click “I accept” rather than read the full terms and conditions governing the use of a site.

The OPC’s paper discusses the roles and responsibilities of various players – individuals, organizations, regulators and legislators. It also outlines a range of proposed solutions to the growing challenges related to consent.

For example, some proposed solutions involve making privacy information more accessible for consumers, giving them the ability to manage privacy preferences across different devices and ensuring privacy is not an afterthought, but is rather “baked” into products and services.

Other possible solutions seek to ban certain collections and uses of personal information outright, while placing restrictions on others. Under another possible scenario, certain information could be allowed to be collected and used without consent under limited and justifiable circumstances, as long as there is adequate oversight.

Industry codes of practice and tougher enforcement measures for regulators are some of the other possible solutions discussed in the paper.

The goal of the consultation is to identify improvements to the current model and bring clearer definition to the roles and responsibilities of the various players who could implement them. The OPC will then apply those improvements within its jurisdiction and recommend other changes to Parliament as appropriate.

Experts and non-experts alike are invited to share their ideas up until July 13th.

The consent model examination is part of the Office’s work on the Economics of Personal Information, which was identified last year as one of four privacy priorities that will guide the proactive work of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada over the next five years.

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For more information, please contact:

Valerie Lawton
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

See also: Blog post – Mending the consent model: A call for solutions

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