Privacy watchdog disappointed with government’s ability to protect the privacy of Canadians

The details were outlined in the Privacy Commissioner’s annual report

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien is calling on the federal government to do more to protect the rights of Canadians.

In his final annual report as commissioner, Therrien takes aim at the government’s inability to stay in line with continuing privacy concerns raised throughout the years.

One such concern was the commission’s role in a Facebook court case. The commissioner brought this case forward in February 2020 after an investigation found the social media giant had numerous shortcomings in how it used personal information and protected users’ privacy. The court proceedings are ongoing, but the commissioner notes this is one example of a threat to privacy and human rights.

He was hopeful some change would come about when parliament introduced Bill C-11 in November 2020. Named the Digital Charter Implementation Act, it was aimed at bringing Canada’s privacy laws into the 21st century by overhauling the federal private sector privacy law.

But the bill only received a few hours of debate and died on paper when the election was called in August. Therrien noted this as a concern — “it was a step back,” he said in the report. His office was one of the parties that had been calling for a bill like this to be introduced for years.

While the bill was presented as something that would Canadians control over the data collected, the commission still had some concerns about it. “The bill would have given consumers less control and organizations more flexibility in monetizing personal data, without increasing their accountability,” the report said. The commission argues that the new bill would favour commercial objectives over privacy protections, and argued it should be the other way around.

Privacy-protective measures that can be found in the privacy laws of some provinces and countries similar to the Canadian economy were also missing. The commission created a submission with 60 recommendations to improve privacy measures. They never got the chance to bring these up for consideration.

Canada has two privacy laws. The Privacy Act focuses on the public sector and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act focuses on the private sector. The report states neither of these laws are suitable for protecting privacy in the digital world.

“I am hopeful the government will seriously consider needed improvements to Bill C-11 so that we can see an updated private sector privacy law that more effectively achieves responsible innovation and the protection of rights.”

The office also assisted with Health Canada’s COVID Alert app. In the last report, Therrien said law reforms were needed to protect privacy during the pandemic. When the federal government first consulted Therrien’s office about the app, concerns were raised it didn’t meet key privacy principles outlined in the framework the office created focusing on data collection during the pandemic. The office brought up recommendations that were ultimately implemented.

The office is currently participating in Health Canada’s evaluation of the app for necessity, effectiveness, and other factors.

Image credit: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada