In the fall, I teach part-time at the University of Ottawa Law School. It’s a rewarding experience for me because I’m presented, every year, with a new crop of students who elect to study privacy law as part of the process of getting their degree. In the course, we tackle all sorts of privacy issues. From Charter through to PIPEDA and every tort in between, it keeps me on my toes and forces me to stay current. As much as I think I’m there to challenge and enlighten my students, I think I am equally challenged and enlightened by them every term.
This winter, I decided to take up a different type of course and agreed to teach a group of teens about privacy issues in today’s modern world. If I thought I was challenged by the law school setting, let me say these teens really keep me on my toes. One of their assignments every week is to read this Digest, so I can’t pump them up too much, but let me say that it’s very nice to see such a keen group of engaged teenagers.
One of the things that is common between the two groups of students is that it takes them very little time to conclude that Canada’s privacy laws only go so far. I think it becomes clear to people looking at privacy law with fresh eyes to conclude that the laws aren’t particularly effective at stemming the tide associated with massive amounts of data collection, by both the private and public sector. We have laws that are based on the principle of “limiting collection,” but if you pause and think about the trail of data you leave at every virtual step of today’s connected world, this principle is not exactly flexing any type of legal muscle.
Another thing that students who approach privacy with fresh eyes seem to conclude is that Canada, when compared to other places around the world, seems to be falling behind in terms of affording Canadians with meaningful remedies for privacy violations. It’s an observation that I agree with and I gain some validation when one of the teens says, “Yeah, they broke the law, but so what? Nothing's going to really happen to them.”
It's great to have the chance to hear the new generation’s perspectives on these issues. I cherish these opportunities, and for those of you who have been in the industry for some time, I encourage you to seek new perspectives too. At times this will validate your thinking; at other times it will challenge you. Either way, it’s a good thing to do.
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