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Time for Privacy Rules for Federal Private Sector

OTTAWA, August 17, 1995 - The federal government should seize the initiative and extend its privacy rules to the federally-regulated private sector - such as banks, telecommunications and interprovincial transportation, says federal Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips in his annual report, released today.

"Voluntary" privacy protection is simply inadequate in an age of interactive communications technology and the growing traffic in personal data. "Canadians are entitled to uniform standards of respect for their privacy rights no matter where they live or in what business they are engaged, a situation which can never be left to the whims of the marketplace". Without legal protection, Canadians could see themselves "digitized into data subjection", Phillips said.

Phillips also urges the federal government to work with the provinces to harmonize privacy laws in the private sector under provincial jurisdiction. There is no need to re-invent the wheel - were industry to adopt the Canadian Standards Association's draft model privacy code, governments could then embody the code into law. The proposed code meets most requirements of internationally-accepted privacy codes and has substantial business and government acceptance. It only requires being translated into law and buttressed with independent enforcement and oversight.

Among the report's highlights is resolution of the Office's longest and most complex investigation; 27 outstanding complaints against Statistics Canada's Census. To resolve the complaints, Statistics Canada has agreed to a number of important changes, including dropping from the short form (sent to four of five households) questions about "persons living elsewhere who stayed overnight" and about the residence. It will also eliminate questions about fertility and religion from the long form.

Statistics Canada also agreed to improve its explanations of why particular information is needed and how it will be used; beef up its privacy training of census staff; offer a mail return option to avoid local enumerators seeing answers, and testing a centralized edit process which could eventually eliminate the need for enumerators.

One issue remains to be resolved between Statistics Canada and the National Archivist; keeping personal returns in perpetuity. Destruction of personalized census data is the ultimate solution to Canadians' recurring privacy worries about the Census, particularly about the highly-detailed long form.

Commissioner and staff received 1783 new complaints, handled more than 9,000 inquiries, completed 1307 investigations, 13 compliance audits and follow-ups and delivered 43 speeches during the year.

For those with access to Internet, the report (and other Office publications) are available on the Office's Web site at http://info.ic.gc.ca/opengov/opc/privacy.html.

Information: Sally Jackson (613)995-8566, 1(800)995-2410

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