Now that the federal government nominated a new privacy commissioner, it’s time to speculate about what kind of commissioner Philippe Dufresne would be. There’s no doubt he’s very bright and capable. And, like the previous commissioner, he’s a career civil servant with no apparent private sector experience.
Commissioner Dufresne is referred to as a leading expert on human rights, so I wonder whether he will continue his predecessor’s drive to make privacy a human right at the federal level. It’s unlikely that the government is going to implement former Commissioner Therrien’s recommendation to refer to privacy as a human right in the law that replaces the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, but this is an issue that is likely to keep coming up, so it’s important to consider whether this is a good idea.
I have yet to see a well-articulated theory on the specific problem this is intended to solve. From what I can tell, the idea seems to be based on the notion that privacy is important, there is not enough of it, and elevating it to a human right will somehow result in more privacy. While this may have some intuitive appeal, it’s not a compelling reason to change the law.
One of the biggest challenges is that it’s virtually impossible to define privacy in a meaningful way. Privacy professionals may talk about it in their jobs every day, but I bet few ever stop to consider what privacy actually means. It’s more of a collection of ideas — an abstract concept that is highly contextual, meaning something different to each person, which can change depending on time and circumstance.
I also tend to believe that privacy is instrumental, as opposed to an end in and of itself. Privacy is crucial in the prevention of discrimination and helps to protect us from abuses of power by the state. It also plays a key role in such things as democracy, dignity and self-determination. So it’s really important in serving those higher purposes, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be, or should be, a human right.
It’s arguable that there’s no harm in referring to privacy a human right, particularly if the result is just a few feel good statements in the preamble to a law. But we should have a clear understanding of how this is intended to improve the lives of Canadians in a meaningful way. It’s also important to consider whether elevating such an abstract concept to human right status trivializes the human rights that are currently well-defined and protected under Canadian law. I look forward to hearing what the new commissioner thinks.
All CIPP/C certification holders and Canadian IAPP members in good standing should have received an email asking them to complete a job task analysis survey to keep the CIPP/C certification exam relevant. If you’ve already taken it — thank you!
If you haven’t taken the survey, please do so before Wednesday, June 15. The survey should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete and the results will help the IAPP certification team evaluate the content of the current exam and determine what may need to change in future versions. (Certified individuals can earn two continuing privacy education credits for completing the survey.)
Please direct any questions to Stacie Cocola at firstname.lastname@example.org
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