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Information Highway Needs National Privacy Code

OTTAWA, August 9, 1994--Nothing less than broad privacy legislation for everyone--governments and business--will ensure Canadians hang on to their privacy in the face of the information highway. "Without some rules, the first roadkill...will be our privacy and dignity", warns Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips in his latest annual report, released today.

Phillips calls for "new, broadly-applicable national standards" to protect not only the data trails we leave in new electronic systems, but also "the enormous traffic already going on in both the private and public sectors". Consumers are finding financial institutions monitoring their cheques; video stores pressing them for family income, and long distance telephone services demanding their tax number--the SIN.

But new information systems also promise consumers banking, shopping and government and medical services from home. These systems will collect and record not just individual transactions but the patterns of those transactions.

"Without any rules--and there are no rules in the private sector--(except in Québec) Canadians could find their behaviour monitored and the data manipulated, used and sold for purposes they neither envisaged or intended", Phillips said.

Private companies operating in Québec already live by the province's tough new privacy law. Yet those same companies doing business in the rest of the country have no obligations to other Canadians. "These new interactive networks make national privacy protection both essential and inevitable", says Phillips.

During the year the Office also

  • completed 1,426 complaint investigations;
  • handled 8,688 inquiries and publication requests;
  • carried out seven departmental audits, 13 follow-up reviews of earlier audits and investigated 12 incidents of lost or improperly disclosed personal information;
  • reviewed 48 notices that personal information would be released "in the public interest", and monitored 3,938 disclosures to members of Parliament during the election (when MPs lose their special status under the Privacy Act);
  • gave 40 speeches and almost 100 media interviews.

Information: Sally Jackson, (613)995-8566 or (613)995-2410

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