May 21, 2019
Ottawa is promising revisions to federal privacy law in an effort to better balance the control Canadians have over their personal data when it’s collected by technology companies. The government said it will create a series of “principles” it will use to guide decision-making in government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a “digital charter” last week, teasing that it would tackle issues such as hate speech, misinformation and election interference on the internet. In a speech in Toronto Tuesday, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains expanded upon Mr. Trudeau’s announcement, arguing that Canadians should be given transparent explanations and greater control over how their data is used and shared.
Canadian politicians have taken to framing the country’s economy with a focus on innovation, though critics have argued that the country has for too long allowed large multinational firms to trample over homegrown companies while monetizing users’ personal data. The protection of such data, meanwhile, has moved to the centre of the public conversation as tech companies deal with accusations of data misuse, such as last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The principles Mr. Bains outlined Tuesday emerged from months of consultations beginning last June to develop a national data strategy. They will also include recommendations to modernize government’s digital services and position Canada as a leader in using artificial-intelligence technology for the pubic good, as well as penalties and fines for organizations that breach the principles.
It is not clear how many of these principles will make their way into legislation ahead of the scheduled fall election, though Mr. Bains said the government plans to update the Privacy Act. Ottawa also hopes to reform the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, better known as PIPEDA. It will release a white paper on the act and begin consultations on its revision over the course of the summer.
While Canadian digital-privacy laws are considered to be more forward thinking than the United States’s, it is widely regarded as lagging behind the world-leading European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was brought into force last year. Asked by The Globe and Mail why Canada opted to focus on principles instead of matching European legislative standards, Mr. Bains insisted that PIPEDA was “interoperable” and compatible with GDPR.
“What we’ve done is further enhance those laws by putting some strong mechanisms for consent, control, transparency, enforcement – these are very important issues we’re addressing, and this will make sure that we continue to be interoperable and adequate when it comes to GDPR going forward as well,” he said.”
Mr. Bains also said a new Canadian Statistics Advisory Council will review the Statistics Canada’s collection of information. Broadly, he also hopes to “the development and compatibility of data governance standards in Canada.”
The Minister’s speech focused on trying to find balance between helping innovative Canadian businesses get a step ahead while respecting the people who generate that data. “Innovation cannot happen at the expense of privacy,” Mr. Bains said.
The Council of Canadian Innovators, which represents a growing number of Canadian scale-up tech companies, said it hoped to see more details from Ottawa, and that it hoped the federal government would engage with its members as it firmed up more details.
“While our members are pleased to see the government is concerned with issues posed by data-driven economy, more work is needed to ensure data collection, use, monetization and data flows serve the interest of Canada’s economy,” said Ben Bergen, CCI’s executive director, in an e-mailed statement.
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