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Commissioner: Canadian rights and values must be central to government’s digital innovation strategy

GATINEAU, QC, December 5, 2018 – Canada’s Privacy Commissioner is calling for the protection of Canadian rights and values as the federal government considers how to respond to a digital revolution raising “some of the most fundamental questions of our time.”

Commissioner Therrien today released a letter to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) offering his views related to the government’s National Digital and Data Consultations.

 “I am growing increasingly troubled that longstanding privacy rights and values in Canada are not being given equal importance within a new digital ecosystem eagerly focused on embracing and leveraging data for various purposes.  Individual privacy is not a right we simply trade away for innovation, efficiency or commercial gain.”

He noted that the consultation is asking how government should increase citizens’ trust and confidence on data use “while not impeding innovation.” 

“I am wary of this discourse as it suggests to Canadians that privacy is at odds with innovation,” the Commissioner wrote. “Canada should simultaneously pursue privacy and innovation, and Privacy by Design is an excellent way to achieve both. “

Commissioner Therrien has called for stronger privacy laws that adequately protect Canadians. In the letter, he states the law should continue to be principles-based and technologically neutral. However, it must also be rights-based and drafted not as an industry code of conduct that courts find difficult to interpret and apply, but rather as a statute that confers rights, while allowing for responsible innovation.

Additionally, a modernized law should empower a public authority such as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to issue binding guidance or rules to clarify how general principles and broadly framed rights, such as consent, are to apply in practice. This would change the Privacy Commissioner’s role from ombudsman to regulator.

“To build confidence in the digital economy – which the government recognizes is necessary – Canadians cannot be left to fend for themselves, and they cannot rely exclusively on organizations to manage their information responsibly. An independent regulator with sufficient powers to protect Canadians in a complex environment is required,” says Commissioner Therrien.

About the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as a 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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For more information, please contact:

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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