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March 10, 2017

Privacy Commissioner calls for greater protection of privacy rights of Canadians in U.S.

Canadians have some privacy protection in the United States, but that protection is fragile because it relies primarily on administrative agreements that do not have the force of law, says the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

In a letter to the Ministers of Justice, Public Safety and Defence, Commissioner Daniel Therrien called on Canadian government officials to ask their U.S. counterparts to strengthen privacy protections for Canadians by adding Canada to a list of designated countries under the Judicial Redress Act, passed by the US Congress last year.

If Canada was so designated, as the European Union and 26 European countries were earlier this year, its citizens could have certain privacy rights enforced through access to U.S. courts. This would also strengthen the protection given to Canadians by administrative agreements such as the Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border Action Plan and its Joint Statement of Privacy Principles.

The Commissioner’s letter follows requests from concerned Canadians for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) to consider the implications of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order, excluding non U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents from the protections of the U.S. Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.

While the U.S. Privacy Act never applied to Canadians to begin with, and the Executive Order did not change that reality, the Order did highlight a “significant gap in the protection of Canadians’ personal information south of the border,” Commissioner Therrien said in the letter to federal ministers.

“As a longtime ally and close trading partner, I believe that Canada should ask to be given the same level of protection as that granted to the various European countries designated as ‘covered countries.’ ”

In his letter to ministers and in order to properly assess the concerns of Canadians, Commissioner Therrien is asking the government to be provided with relevant agreements and to be informed of any changes in their implementation that would adversely impact the privacy of Canadians.

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