ARCHIVED - Privacy Preoccupations<3>Hughes Simard, Senior Privacy Investigator
How do you contribute to the promotion and protection of privacy in Canada?
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) employees specialize in a range of issues. What keeps privacy investigator Hughes Simard busy is investigating possible contraventions of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) by private companies.
What do you do at OPC?
I am part of a unit that investigates complaints received from the public, or initiated by the Commissioner, under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). We investigate complaints that arise from privacy problems, or perceived problems, in the private sector.
For example, if someone's personal information was disclosed to a third party by an organization (such as a bank or an insurance company) without their consent or a court order, they may choose to contact our Office. As an investigator, it would be my job to understand the legislation and to gather the necessary information to determine whether a person’s privacy rights were violated.
What makes my job so interesting is that the private sector is very diverse. Investigations give me an opportunity to learn a lot about different industries, their practices in relation to the protection of personal information, as well as their general activities and management practices. I can investigate in sectors as diverse as the automobile industry, banks, insurance companies, telephone/cable/Internet services providers, power utilities, transport companies such as airlines or railways, delivery services, and collection agencies.
As an investigator, I am in contact with complainants, the companies involved (respondents), and some times third parties (such as professional and industry associations and regulators). It takes strong investigative skills to examine facts provided by both parties, along with company practices and policies, and analyze them in light of their compliance with the Act.
What privacy issue keeps you up at night?
A lot of current and future privacy issues relate to technologies that facilitate the collection and sharing of information. This is the case with companies that collect information about their customers and then use it to create a profile of each customer for marketing purposes. While I think we need to recognize the genuine need of companies to understand the market and consumers’ interests, it is also important to protect consumers when it comes to controlling the use of their personal information. We give out a lot of our personal information in the course of our daily lives, and I don’t think we always realize how it could be used.
Social networks and the amount of information that participants share is another big concern for me, particularly because we know that the personal information people choose to share on the web cannot easily be removed. Once you publicly post details of your personal life on a social networking site, you essentially give it to anyone who has an Internet connection, and you have no control over how long it remains accessible or how it is used.