Privacy watchdog says he will look for amendments to new privacy legislation

Canada’s privacy watchdog said today he sees the federal government’s new privacy legislation as an improvement on existing laws, but he has concerns about some aspects of the bill and will be looking for amendments.

“This ambitious reform initiative includes several significant improvements. However, the bill also raises a number of questions about its ability to effectively protect privacy in a constantly evolving digital society,” Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a statement today. 

The Liberal government introduced the Digital Charter Implementation Act earlier this week — one of the biggest overhauls of Canada’s privacy law in decades. 

Under the proposed legislation, companies could face fines of up to five per cent of global revenue or $25 million — whichever is greater — for the most serious offences.

The legislation also would give the federal privacy commissioner order-making powers, including the ability to force an organization to comply and to order a company to stop collecting data or using personal information.

The commissioner would recommend fines to a new Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal, which would levy monetary penalties and hear appeals of orders issued under the new law.

That provision was singled out by Therrien, who said he had concerns about the ability to make timely judgments.

“We believe citizens should have access to quick and effective remedies. We are examining whether the addition of a new structure is likely to achieve this result,” he said. 

Privacy should trump economics: Therrien

Therrien also said he’s troubled by aspects of the bill that he said open the door to “new commercial uses of personal information without consent” by placing emphasis “on the importance of the use of personal information for economic activity.” 

“In our view, it would be normal and fair for commercial activities to be permitted within a rights framework, rather than placing rights and commercial interests on the same footing,” he said.

“Generally, it is possible to concurrently achieve both commercial objectives and privacy protection. This is how we envision responsible innovation. However, where there is a conflict, we think that rights should prevail.”

Therrien said he was pleased with elements of the bill that impose transparency requirements for the use of artificial intelligence. He said he was also pleased to see industry code-of-conduct language replaced with a “more readable law that sets out rights and obligations rather than recommendations.”

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