The Adequacy of the Canadian Personal Privacy Laws

The following short post is my perspective on the adequacy of the personal privacy laws and standards in Canada.

Right to Privacy

On Dec. 15, 1890, Samuel D. Warren and U.S. Justice Louis D. Brandeis defined the Right to Privacy in Harvard Law Review magazine, calling the right to privacy as “the right to be left alone.” (Warren, S. D., & Brandeis, L. D., 1890). Almost hundred years later, non-intrusion theorists such as Barron also labeled it as the “right of the individual to decide for himself” (Barron, J. H., 1979).

I agree with both observations. In my view, everyone should retain the right to make the personal choice about what part of our personal lives can be shared or disclosed to others. However, I also realize that as a concept, the right to privacy is many times quite intangible and somewhat of a vague notion. It is mainly due to the tendency of privacy rights to intersect with other areas.

For example, how can I preserve the freedom from external control or influence, if my personal information can be disclosed by the organization I work for or my government? On the other hand, how can my manager, or a government official retain the right to freedom of speech, if a controversial personal information is protected as confidential by the privacy protection laws?

As we can see, the Right to Privacy is somewhat of an elusive concept. Thus different countries and provinces within the countries often decide to define their very own privacy protection laws and rules. Such is the situation in Canada.

Privacy Protection in Canada

In Canada, we have federal and provincial privacy laws.

In regards to federal laws, there are two different privacy legislations, both defined by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (Priv.gc.ca., 2014).

  • The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (also known as PIPEDA)

This specific law addresses a private-sector privacy and described the law as well as rules for collecting and disclosing personal information by commercial entities conducting the business in Canada.

  • The Privacy Act

This law outlines the practices of federal government departments and agencies in regards to individual information-handling. Essentially it states that government cannot gather individual private information unless it is necessary to the institution operations and activities. In such case, with some exemptions, an individual must be informed about the data that is being collected.

Regarding provincial laws, each of the provinces has its own privacy protection legislation defined by the provincial act. There are numerous provincial laws in Canada, e.g. Alberta’s PIPA (information protection law), or Ontario’s PHIPA (health protection rules).

Canada is very strict about Privacy Protection, but I am not able to comment on the adequacy of the personal privacy laws and standards between different Canadian provinces. In my opinion, this is because the provincial differences further complicate things and lessening the clarity of Canadian Privacy law to regular citizens, not versed in the law.

Conclusion

Without the rights to privacy, our society risks losing the freedom of thought and speech. If we lose freedom of speech, it is not far from there to lose the freedom of political and social activities, which could open the door to the unlimited power of elected officials. Moreover, that would likely lead to fading of the social boundaries and in the extreme situation also to a complete governmental control of all citizens.

I want to close with words of Edward Joseph Snowden, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who leaked the details of secret NSA surveillance program in 2013.

According to Mr. Snowden. who is not considered a security authority, but nevertheless is often cited with his views “…saying that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. It’s a deeply anti-social principal because rights are not just individual – they’re collective. And if you don’t stand up for it, then who will?” (Snowden J. E., 2017)

References

Tavani, H. T. (2007). Philosophical theories of privacy: Implications for an adequate online privacy policy. Metaphilosophy, 38(1), 1-22. [Accessed 7 Apr. 2017].

Alderman, E., & Kennedy, C. (1997). The right to privacy. Vintage. [Accessed 7 Apr. 2017].

Warren, S. D., & Brandeis, L. D. (1890). The right to privacy. Harvard law review, 193-220.

Barron, J. H. (1979). Warren and Brandies, the Right to Privacy, 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193 (1890): Demystifying a Landmark Citation. Suffolk UL Rev., 13, 875. [Accessed 8 Apr. 2017].

Priv.gc.ca. (2014). Overview of privacy legislation in Canada – Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. [online] Available at: https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/privacy-topics/privacy-laws-in-canada/02_05_d_15/ [Accessed 8 Apr. 2017].

Snowden J. E. (2017). Edward Snowden – Wikiquote. [online] Available at: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden [Accessed 8 Apr. 2017].

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