Monday, January 21, 2008

Privacy Commissioner wades into copyright debate and DRM

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has waded into the debate over copyright reform in Canada, focusing on the possible privacy impact of digital rights management. The following is from a letter to the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Canadian Heritage:

Letter with respect to possible amendments to the Copyright Act (January 18, 2008) - Privacy Commissioner of Canada

...Technological protective measures can be embedded in various media to control copying and prevent copyright infringement, or they can be built into electronic devices to prevent the reading of unauthorized content. Digital rights management (DRM) is the general term for the varied technologies used to enforce pre-defined limitations on the use of digital content. These include any means by which publishers or manufacturers control use of data or hardware. My office has prepared an information sheet on DRM technology, a copy of which is enclosed for your information.

If DRM technologies only controlled copying and use of content, our Office would have few concerns. However, DRM technologies can also collect detailed personal information from users, who often do no more than access the content on a computer. This information is transmitted back to the copyright owner or content provider, without the consent or knowledge of the user. Although the means exist to circumvent these technologies and thus prevent the collection of this information, previous proposals to amend the Copyright Act contained anti-circumvention provisions.

Technologies that report back to a company about the use of a product reveal a great deal about an individual’s tastes and preferences. Indeed, such information can be extremely personal. Technologies that automatically collect personal information about individuals without their knowledge or consent violate the fair information principles that are central to PIPEDA and most other privacy legislation. That this occurs when individuals are engaged in a private activity in their homes or other places where they have a high expectation of privacy exacerbates the intrusiveness of the collection.

Update: Michael Geist's latest column is on this topic: | columnists | Copyright reform a potential threat to privacy.

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