In recent weeks, there have been several significant privacy developments in Canada, including troubling privacy practices at well-known organizations such as Radio Canada and Tim Hortonsa call from business organizations for privacy reform, the appointment of a new privacy commissioner with little privacy experience, and a decision by a Senate Committee to effectively overrule the government on border confidentiality rules. These developments raise the puzzling question of why the federal government – led by Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino and Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez – is so indifferent to privacy, treating it as a low priority issue at best and at worst proposing dangerous measures or seemingly hoping to take advantage of weak privacy laws to fund other priorities policies.
Privacy alarm bells have been ringing for weeks. For example, the Globe and Mail recently published a important story about children’s privacy, working with Human Rights Watch and other media organizations to examine the privacy practices of dozens of online education platforms. Preliminary data suggests major concerns in Canada, especially with the CBC, whose CBC Kids platform is said to be “one of the most egregious cases in Canada and really in the whole world”. The CBC responded that it “complies with relevant Canadian laws and regulations regarding online privacy and follows industry practices for audience analytics and privacy protection.” Yet that’s the problem: Canada’s privacy laws are universally considered outdated and weak, allowing privacy-invasive practices without consequences. Shortly thereafter, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released findings of an investigation involving tracking location data from the Tim Hortons app. First identified by James McLeod, then National Post reporterthe commissioner has found privacy breaches, but Canadian privacy law does not provide penalties for these breaches.
Despite the clear need for privacy reform – the outgoing Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, reiterated the need for reform in his final speech as curator and business groups made a similar call for privacy reform – the government seems indifferent to the issue. The appointment of Philippe Dufresne as the new Privacy Commissioner is a good example. I don’t know Mr. Dufresne and I hope he will turn out to be an excellent commissioner. He certainly said many good things when he appeared before the committee yesterday. However, the government’s choice is instructive. By choosing someone with no obvious privacy experience, the government sided with government management experience instead. Good management experience is valuable, but a career in government is no training ground for pushing political boundaries, pressuring governments to reform the law and demanding that the private sector s conforms to it. The Dufresne choice signals that the government may be more comfortable with a well-managed agent of Parliament than with an agent of change.
The government’s dangerous approach to privacy at the border is indicative of its indifference, if not hostility, to privacy. Yesterday, a Senate committee examining Bill S-7 rejected the government’s proposed standard for border searches of electronic devices over the objection of Minister Marco Mendicino and Senator Marc Gold, the Government Representative in the Senate (who, by the way, was the sponsor of the unnecessary pre-study of Bill C-11). As Senator Mobina Jaffer noted, “We didn’t have a single witness except the minister and officials who said the new standard ‘was a good idea.’
Mendecino has company when it comes to low secrecy. The government’s failure to prioritize privacy reform remains one of the most discouraging aspects of its approach to digital policy. A big reason for this failure surely rests on Minister Champagne. Now nearly a year and a half in office, Champagne is increasingly seen as one of the least effective and least consequential industry ministers of the past two decades, especially when it comes to digital policies. His department was absent on the following issues: Internet regulation, news media, copyright term extension, and privacy, among others. Over the past 25 years of digital policy, few industry ministers have shown less interest, commitment or commitment to the issue.
The problems with the government’s approach extend beyond Mendicino’s hostility and Champagne’s indifference, however. Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has effectively tied his digital cultural policy to the continued commercial success of internet platforms, seeing corporations as the source of funding for film and television production, music and local news. Additionally, his plans envision companies also paying for the regulatory frameworks themselves, including news and online damages. The irony that the government is prioritizing “getting money from the web giants” over protecting Canadians from these companies should not escape anyone’s notice. In fact, the incentive structure for Heritage is to keep the data flowing: more data for tech companies means more revenue, which means more money for the cultural sector. Rather than seek to regulate privacy and data governance, Rodriguez wants to profit from it by funding his political goals.
For years, the challenge associated with privacy reform in Canada has been likely opposition from business groups, who viewed privacy as costly regulation that could limit their business plans. business. Today, the Canadian business community is actively demanding privacy reform. So what is the delay? The unfortunate response seems to be government ministers such as Champagne, Mendicino and Rodriguez, who are either indifferent, hostile or the beneficiaries of little privacy.