Modernize privacy laws now, B.C. commissioner urges

Laws protecting Canadians’ privacy, access to information outdated, behind other nations

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy | Photo: OIPC

Canada’s various governments need to modernize access to information and privacy laws, the country’s oversight commissioners say.

“The current provincial government pledged to make significant reforms to British

Columbia’s access to information and privacy laws during its last election campaign,” B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy said Nov. 12. “Now is the time to make these necessary changes that will serve the public interest.”

McEvoy’s comments came after federal, provincial and territorial information and privacy commissioners released a recent resolution saying privacy and access to information are quasi-constitutional rights that are fundamental to individual self-determination, democracy and good government.

And, the resolution said, new technologies, while having many societal benefits, have impacted fundamental democratic principles and human rights, including privacy, access to information, freedom of expression and electoral processes.

The commissioners said the public is increasingly concerned about the use and exploitation of personal information by both governments and private businesses. There are also worries about opaqueness of information handling practices.

“Security breaches are happening more often and have impacted millions of citizens,” the commissioners said.

Indeed, the federal privacy chief noted this week that more than 28 million Canadians’ privacy has been affected by 680 reported breaches in the past year – six times the previous year’s volume.

The resolution said  most Canadian access and privacy laws have not been fundamentally changed since their passage, some more than 35 years ago.

“They have sadly fallen behind the laws of many other countries in the level of privacy protection provided to citizens,” the resolution said.

“While some legislative advances have occurred in some Canadian jurisdictions, more work is required to ensure modern legislation across the country to better protect Canadians, McEvoy said.

The resolution called for:

• A legislative framework to ensure the responsible development and use of artificial

intelligence and machine learning technologies;

• Enforcement powers, such as legislating order-making powers and the power to

impose penalties, fines or sanctions; and

• the right of access should apply to all information held by public entities, regardless of format.