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Government's Privacy Message "Mixed"

OTTAWA, July 29, 1996 - Canadians' privacy suffered a serious blow this year as the federal government began commercializing some operations, effectively ending legal protection for clients' and employees' privacy. Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips discusses the privacy implications (citing NAV CANADA--the air navigation system as an example) in his annual report, released today.

"It didn't have to be this way", said Phillips. "The government could have carried forward privacy protection, as it has done with Official Languages law. Despite repeated urging, and an opportunity to demonstrate how data protection can work in the private sector, it chose not to do so. This is more than a lost opportunity, it is a distinctly mixed message at a time when government has announced its intention to introduce private sector privacy laws."

That announcement in May by the Industry and Justice Ministers acknowledges that "the right to privacy must be recognized in law" and offers real hope for comprehensive national privacy legislation in the future. Phillips applauds the initiative but cautions against actions which are "excessively timid" or "emasculated by concessions to special interests". In the meantime, "Parliament has traded away a sure thing for future considerations", said Phillips.

The report also recommends Parliament pass legislation to provide the Communications Security Establishment with an explicit legal framework. Legislation would provide a clear underpinning for CSE and greater public understanding of its role and operations. The recommendation comes as a result of the Office's audit of CSE's signals intelligence operations, completed this year.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • recommendations on the proposed permanent voters' register;
  • comments on creation of a national DNA databank;
  • discussion on identifying violent offenders on release;
  • a suggested privacy framework for smart cards, and
  • tips to protect privacy in Cyberspace.

The Office completed 1,681 complaint investigations and handled more than 9,000 inquiries during the year.

The report is available on the Office's Web site at http://infoweb.magi.com/~privcan/

Information: Sally Jackson (613) 995-8566, 1(800) 267-0441

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