Private sector privacy law gets most of the attention, most of the time. I guess I can understand why that is, but as citizens, I think we should actually care more deeply about and focus a little bit more than we do on the laws that governments are subject to.
I recently had to explain to my students that if your privacy is violated by the federal government, you can’t avail yourself of any redress except if it’s about access to your personal information. Yet, at least for now, we hold the private sector to much higher standards.
There isn’t a ton of transparency or opportunities to learn more about privacy violations either. Sure, the federal privacy commissioner issues an annual report every year, but the media usually focuses on the big, shiny private sector stories. Investigation summaries are posted regularly for PIPEDA, whereas we only get bits and pieces of what’s happening in the federal public sector. I guess you could read the ATIP annual reports of every government department, but who’s got time and … who does that?
Now and then, there’s a story in the news about the Privacy Act, but all too often, it’s like this one this week and focuses on how the law ostensibly prevents the government from disclosing personal information about an issue in the media or others feel is in the public interest. At the end of the day, the head of the institution gets to decide if it meets the threshold, but they don’t seem to like that very much.
The result of all this? Not a ton of information and a bit too much faith that everything’s just hunky-dory. Meanwhile, we know the situation is not fine because the Privacy Act is truly ancient, and when you do dig into the less exciting but still important investigations in annual reports, they’re troubling.
Look, I know you’re probably tired of hearing me whine about legislative reform, but I’m going to keep nudging until it finally happens. It’s good the Department of Justice is consulting with an aim to modernize the Privacy Act. Not leaving it up to Justice and highlighting concerns about the government’s public survey, OpenMedia launched its own survey and recently released the findings from 4,000 respondents highlighting what they’d like to see. And if you read Commissioner Therrien’s comments about the government’s proposals, he seemed pretty darn positive about them, suggesting it’s much closer to the rights-based law he expects to see, in contrast with how he feels about Bill C-11, the proposed new PIPEDA. I don’t disagree that a greater human rights–like focus for a law covering the state is heading in a decent direction.
Right now, I’d like both laws to keep advancing, and I have to admit that I’m a bit worried that with a minority government and an election, we may lose our chance at something perhaps not perfect, but definitely way better.
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