Conservative government showing lack of concern for Canadians' privacy rights | National Union of Public and General Employees

Conservative government showing lack of concern for Canadians' privacy rights

With the appointment of a new federal privacy commissioner, and the conduct of committee hearings on lawful access, the Harper government shows disregard for Canadians privacy rights.

Ottawa (03 June 2014) — The Conservative government's two recent decisions regarding privacy issues have raised concerns for many Canadians about the safekeeping of personal information and the future of privacy rights in Canada. 

Major Conservative decisions have sparked concern for privacy advocates

The hiring of Justice Department lawyer Daniel Therrien as the next privacy commissioner, over the recommendation of the selection committee, has raised serious concerns among Canadian privacy advocates. The selection committee's preferred candidate was Lisa Campbell from the Competition Bureau.

Privacy experts also point to the decision of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights during the discussion of Bill C-13, the lawful access and "cyberbullying bill", to refuse to hear from provincial privacy commissioners signalling trouble by leading privacy groups. 

Lawful access legislation being pushed through despite concerns

The Standing Committee has scheduled only two more days of witnesses and will then move to a clause-by-clause review of the bill.

Internet and technology issues expert Michael Geist says, "given that lawful access has been the subject of more than a decade of debate, the likelihood that the bill will pass through the committee stage without hearing from a single privacy commissioner is shocking. In fact, leading privacy groups such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and CIPPIC have all been told that there is unlikely to be spots for them at committee.

"The exclusion of these groups — along with the absence of any federal or provincial commissioners — undermines the entire review process."

Legislation raises serious privacy concerns

Privacy advocates are raising concerns about two draft pieces of legislation —  Bill S-4 (the Digital Privacy Act) and Bill C-13 (the cyberbullying bill). 

Bill S-4 would allow organizations to disclose personal information without consent (and without a court order) to any organization that is investigating a contractual breach or possible violation of any law. This applies to both past breaches or violations, as well as to potential future violations.  This disclosure takes place without the knowledge of the affected person.

While disturbing on its own, when considered with Bill C-13, which expands warrantless disclosure of subscriber information to law enforcement authorities, the threat to Canadian society is exacerbated. Bill C-13 includes a provision for immunity from any criminal or civil liability, including class action lawsuits, for companies that preserve personal information or disclose it without a warrant.

New privacy commissioner unlikely to be an effective critic of legislation

It has been expected that the next privacy commissioner would be at odds with the federal government over proposed legislation that gives police, corporations and government agencies access to Canadians' personal information without court oversight.  However, in a letter a group of privacy experts and advocates has asked the government to withdraw Therrien's nomination as they feel he "lacks the perspective and experience necessary to immediately tackle Canada's many privacy problems."

NDP Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair further points out to the government that Therrien will face conflicts in the role since he played a role in establishing the information-sharing arrangements with the United States that the previous privacy commissioner criticized.  Mulcair argues that because Therrien was involved in creating the privacy rules around the Canada-U.S. security perimeter deal, he can't properly review those rules as commissioner.

In his letter to the Prime Minister Mulcair wrote "I have come to the conclusion that Mr. Therrien has neither the neutrality nor the necessary detachment to hold this position."

Needs to be a fair and transparent approach

Privacy advocates are asking the Conservative government to engage in a fair and transparent process on these matters by not only revisiting the hiring decision of the privacy commissioner, but also opening up the hearings on S-4 and C-13 to expert testimony.

According to Geist, "there may be differing views on the lawful access provisions (C-13 is certainly far better than the prior Bill C-30 and its predecessor but still needs improvement), but a fair and effective legislative process should ensure that leading experts are given the opportunity to voice their views."


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