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Privacy Commissioner outlines recommendations for modernizing the Privacy Act

OTTAWA, March 10, 2016 — The Privacy Commissioner of Canada welcomes a Parliamentary committee review of the Privacy Act and has unveiled his priorities for modernizing the law governing how the federal government handles personal information.

Commissioner Daniel Therrien laid out his views Thursday during an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The Parliamentary committee is reviewing Canada’s federal public sector privacy law, which has remained largely unchanged since it was proclaimed in 1983.

“Unfortunately, more than three decades have since passed without any substantive change to a law designed for a world where federal public servants still largely worked with paper files,” Commissioner Therrien said.

“Technology, on the other hand, has not stood still. It is important that we move to reform the antiquated Privacy Act to provide Canadians with a law that protects their rights in an increasingly complex environment.”

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has recommended changes under three broad themes: Responding to technological change, legislative modernization and the need for transparency.

Commissioner Therrien has proposed amending the Privacy Act to, for example:

  • Require that all information sharing be governed by very explicit written agreements;
  • Create an explicit requirement for institutions to safeguard personal information, as well as a legal requirement to report breaches to the OPC;
  • Broaden the grounds to seek a Federal Court review to include all contraventions of the Privacy Act, not just denials of access to personal information;
  • Require government departments to consult the OPC on bills that impact privacy before they are tabled in Parliament;
  • Allow the OPC to report in a more timely and proactive manner on the privacy practices of federal institutions, beyond annual and special reports to Parliament; and
  • Extend the application of the Privacy Act to all government institutions, including Ministers’ Offices and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Commissioner Therrien also urged Parliament to consider regulating the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by political parties, but noted the Privacy Act is probably not the best instrument to do this.

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The OPC will provide the Committee with a more detailed written submission later this month.

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For more information, please contact:

Valerie Lawton
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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