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Why privacy matters

Remarks to Young Canadians’ Parliament, hosted by Children First Canada (virtual)

January 20, 2024

Address by Philippe Dufresne
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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Hello, and thank you for inviting me here. I am very excited to speak with you today.

All of you are doing important work learning about and standing up for democratic rights. That is an incredibly important mission.

I commend you for taking part in the Young Canadians’ Parliament program. It shows initiative and a desire to contribute to a better world. Your passion and your perspective are what we need to meet the challenges and opportunities of this technological age.

When I was your age, I was also interested in rights and the democratic system and I am sure that I would have wanted to participate in this program if it had existed.

When I was in law school, I became a Parliamentary guide. This made me an ambassador for Canada’s parliamentary institutions and taught me about the importance of democratic rights – and human rights more broadly.

That experience helped to inspire a career that has been dedicated to strengthening Canada’s public institutions – like the House of Commons – and to protecting and promoting the fundamental rights of Canadians.

Today I want to talk about my role as the Privacy Commissioner of Canada; what my Office does; and why privacy is an important right that you should advocate for.

OPC overview

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is an Agent of Parliament. This means that I report directly to Parliament rather than to a cabinet minister or the Prime Minister.

My organization, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, is responsible for protecting and promoting the privacy rights of Canadians.

I oversee Canada’s two federal privacy laws, which set the rules for how federal government institutions and certain businesses must handle personal information.

I do this by conducting investigations to find out whether organizations have handled personal information in a way that respects privacy laws.

For example, we have investigated breaches at major companies such as banks. We have looked at how the Tim Hortons mobile app was collecting information about people who downloaded it. Right now we are looking at TikTok and Chat GPT to make sure that they are following privacy laws.

We also provide advice to federal government departments and businesses to help them to ensure that they respect the privacy rights of Canadians.

Sometimes we investigate federal government departments. For example, earlier this year we looked into how Canada Post is using information about people that it gathers from the outside of envelopes and parcels as part of its marketing programs.

Why privacy matters

My Office also works to help Canadians to become more aware of their privacy rights.

So, what does privacy mean?

Privacy is a fundamental right.

Some rights protect your ability to do things – like expressing your opinion – while others guarantee your protection and freedom from certain things, like having your reputation damaged by false statements about you.

The control that you have over your personal information is one way that you exercise your right to privacy.

In a digital world, privacy means protecting your personal information from people and companies who would use it in ways you do not expect.

It has been said that if the service is free, you are the product. And your personal information is worth money. For example, your actions in social media, like TikTok or Instagram, may be used to build a profile that companies then use to target you with other content or products.

With enough bits of information, people can determine a lot about you that you might not want them to know; for example, they might be able to guess where you live, or your sexual orientation.

That is why it is so important that you be aware of your rights. It is your right to know what personal information a business collects about you. You can choose to share your information and with whom – or not to share it – for all kinds of reasons.

Advocating for the privacy rights of children and young people is a priority for my Office.

The online world brings a lot of good things, but also risks. Young people are more vulnerable to those risks than adults.

This is why, for example, we want young people to be able to control their own information. Organizations should let young people fix or delete information about them. They should also get rid of the information once they no longer need it.

Young people have privacy rights and are capable of making choices about their privacy.

This is why I am working with my fellow privacy commissioners from across Canada to protect young people. We published a resolution this fall calling on organizations to do more.

For example, organizations should think about how their work might harm young people’s privacy at the design stage and throughout the project.

Partners in privacy protection

Young Canadians’ Parliament is about advocacy, and so is the OPC. We can be allies and partners in privacy protection.

You have already had a positive impact on our work – my Office held a round table that I believe some of you here today may have attended, and some of you gave us feedback on our resolution. We listened to your suggestions and edited the resolution to add more examples. Thank you for taking part.

You can continue to help us to get a better understanding of what worries you and what you want us to do about it – we want to hear your recommendations.

We have some time now for questions and answers. But if I may, I would like to share some questions of my own with you. Your answers will help my Office to develop its strategic priorities:

  1. What sorts of worries do you have about your personal information? Do you have ideas for how my Office can help?
  2. What do you think governments and businesses in Canada should be doing better when it comes to protecting your privacy?
  3. Do you have ideas of how you could help my Office better understand children’s privacy?
  4. Do you have ideas on projects or activities for my Office?

I would welcome your thoughts on those questions. But I also want to hear any questions that you have for me. What do you want to know about privacy? I encourage you to provide your comments or ask questions in French or English!

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