Friday, June 06, 2008

CBA calls for sweeping reform of federal Privacy Act

The Canadian Bar Association has been urging a comprehensive review of Canada's public sector Privacy Act for some time. Two years ago, the national assembly of the organization representing more than thirty thousand Canadian lawyers unanimously called for a review of the law. The Privacy, Access to Information and Ethics Committee of the House of Commons has recently been holding hearings on the question and I appeared before the Committee on Tuesday on behalf of the CBA. Once it is posted, I'll link to the transcript.

Here's the CBA's media release with a link to our submission:

CBA Supports Overdue Changes and Encourages Full Review of the <em>Privacy Act</em>

For Immediate Release

June 3, 2008

OTTAWA – The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) is urging the federal government to undertake a comprehensive review of the Privacy Act to ensure it will fulfill its objectives into the future.

“The Privacy Act was passed in 1982 and is, quite frankly, showing its age,” says David Fraser, Treasurer of the CBA’s National Privacy and Access Law Section. “Technological and societal changes in the last quarter century since its enactment have significantly diminished its effectiveness in providing privacy protection to Canadians.”

The CBA would like to see the Act strengthened to ensure better guidelines for the collection of personal information and then for its protection once gathered. The CBA notes that information should not be collected unless necessary, recommending that federal institutions be required “to identify the specific purpose for collecting personal information, and to ensure that the information is necessary for that purpose or is authorized by law.”

Once gathered, information must be properly safeguarded, notes the CBA. “The Act must impose a general duty on federal institutions to protect personal information with safeguards appropriate to the sensitivity of the information.”

As well, the CBA recommends a “balanced” approach regarding breaches of the Act. The Association suggests that the Act be amended to require federal institutions to notify individuals if their personal information has been improperly disclosed.

The CBA puts forward seven recommendations for arrangements for disclosing personal information to a foreign government, including that they be written, formal, detailed and public. As well, the CBA recommends that “arrangements with foreign governments that do not respect fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law be very carefully considered.” The CBA refers to the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into the case of Maher Arar, which supports the CBA’s recommendations for reform.

David Fraser and Greg DelBigio, of the CBA’s National Criminal Law Section, will present the CBA’s submission to the Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Privacy Act Reform on Tuesday, June 3, at 3:30 p.m. in room 269, West Block.

The CBA submission is available at:

The Canadian Bar Association is dedicated to improvement in the law and the administration of justice. Some 37,000 lawyers, law teachers, and law students from across Canada are members.

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