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Majority of Canadians support Privacy Act reform, greater transparency by government, businesses: poll

Privacy Commissioner of Canada releases results of biennial survey of Canadians to mark Data Privacy Day

GATINEAU, January 26, 2017 – Canadians want tougher privacy laws and for government institutions and private sector organizations to be more upfront about how they collect and use personal information, according to a new survey commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

The survey found a majority of Canadians support amendments to the Privacy Act, which covers the personal information handling practices of federal government institutions.

Canadians broadly support requiring government institutions to properly safeguard the personal information they collect about Canadians (78%) and that the Privacy Act be expanded to the Prime Minister’s Office and the offices of cabinet ministers (71%). Another 69 per cent of Canadians support granting the Privacy Commissioner order-making power to enforce recommendations made following an investigation, while 66 per cent think government institutions should be required to take steps to assess the privacy risks of any new program or law.

“Canadians agree it’s time to modernize the Privacy Act, which has gone largely unchanged since it was introduced in 1983,” says Commissioner Daniel Therrien, who recently proposed a series of amendments which were largely supported by a parliamentary committee.

“This survey also confirms that Canadians are increasingly concerned about what happens to their personal information in the age of big data, biometrics and the Internet of Things. They want more transparency in their dealings with both business and government.”

Consistent with previous surveys, the vast majority of Canadians (92%) expressed concern about the protection of their privacy.

Nearly two-thirds said they do not know what is being done by government with their personal information and seven in 10 Canadians said intelligence and law enforcement agencies should report publicly on how often they request personal information from telecommunications companies without judicial oversight. A majority of Canadians (81%) expressed some level of concern about government monitoring for national security reasons, although half said they believe intelligence and law enforcement agencies do not have sufficient powers to collect private information from citizens.

When it comes to business transactions, Canadians expressed support for measures that would give them more control over personal information collected online.

For example, the vast majority (86%) agree websites should seek their consent for targeted advertising. Given how few admit to reading privacy policies – just four in 10 said they do so before downloading mobile applications – it suggests the OPC’s ongoing consultations on how to make consent more meaningful are much needed.

Meanwhile, between two-thirds and three-quarters of Canadians said they are concerned about the use of biometric data for the purposes of genetic testing, ancestry or marketing based on information collected through wearable fitness trackers.

Canadians also stressed the need for more accountability, with seven in 10 saying they would be more likely to do business with companies if they were subject to strict financial penalties for misusing their personal information. More than half (51%) said they’ve taken their business elsewhere over concerns about a company’s privacy practices.

“Clearly explaining how personal information is collected, used and protected is crucial to building public confidence and trust, whether it’s in your company brand or the very institution of government,” Commissioner Therrien said. “Data Privacy Day is a good time for everybody – individuals, public and private sector organizations – to take stock of their privacy practices.”

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada commissions polls in order to gauge public understanding and awareness of privacy issues. Results help inform the future education, outreach and public engagement activities. Reports for similar surveys conducted in previous years can be found on the Office’s website.

The telephone poll of 1,500 Canadians was conducted by Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc., in October and November 2016. Survey results are considered to be accurate within +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

Data Privacy Day highlights the impact technology is having on our privacy rights and underlines the importance of valuing and protecting personal information. For more information, visit the official website hosted by Data Privacy Day official website.

About the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman and guardian of privacy in Canada. The Commissioner enforces two laws for the protection of personal information: the Privacy Act, which applies to the federal public sector; and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, Canada’s federal private sector privacy law.

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