Friday, June 30, 2006

Federal Commissioner polls Canadians on privacy attitudes

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has commissioned a poll on Canadians' attitudes on privacy issues. It just came out, so I haven't reviewed it yet but the Commissioner's release is below:

CNW Group: "Poll says Canadians want personal information treated more responsibly

OTTAWA, June 30 /CNW Telbec/ - Canadians want the government and businesses to take their responsibility for safeguarding personal information more seriously, according to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, who released today the findings from a poll commissioned by her Office. The study reveals that most Canadians believe that neither the government nor businesses take their responsibility to protect their personal information very seriously. Only 14 per cent of Canadians believe that the federal government takes its responsibility to protect personal information very seriously and only 11 per cent are confident that businesses take this responsibility very seriously.

"The current government has pledged to make accountability a trademark of government operations, and I can't think of a better way to demonstrate this principle, than by holding it to account for the way in which it treats the personal information," says Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. "Establishing sound privacy management frameworks would help organizations protect individuals' personal information by identifying the inherent privacy risks, and how best to mitigate those risks."

In March 2006, The Office commissioned a public opinion study by EKOS Research Associates to revisit benchmarks from the previous year and to better meet Canadians educational needs about privacy.

While Canadians do not consider privacy on par with priorities such as healthcare and education, they place updating privacy laws on similar footing to issues such as ethics and accountability, public security and taxation. In fact, according to the study, close to 90 per cent take it as a given that the rapid pace of technological innovation means that existing privacy legislation needs to be updated regularly and virtually no one believes there is little need to modernize the law. These findings support the Commissioner's calls for reform of the Privacy Act, which covers the personal information handling practices of federal departments and agencies. The Privacy Act is a first generation privacy law that has not been substantially amended since its inception in 1983. On June 5, 2006 the Commissioner tabled her proposals for reform of the Act with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

"The Privacy Act is an often inadequate public sector data protection law that is woefully out of date," says Ms. Stoddart. "Since my appointment, I have been urging the Government of Canada to reform the Privacy Act. My recommendations to Parliament call for strengthening the Act to address critical issues such as the transborder data flow of personal information."

According to the study, approximately two-thirds of Canadians surveyed are highly concerned about their government's transfer of individual personal information across borders, by outsourcing works to companies in the U.S. The privacy implications related to the USA PATRIOT Act has become the symbol of the increasing concern of Canadians about the security of their personal information when it leaves Canada. In fact, almost 90 per cent of those who are aware of the USA PATRIOT Act express some concerns about the law.

In late March 2006, the Treasury Board released a national strategy and guidelines to address the public's heightened concerns over the transborder flow and the possible privacy risks posed by foreign legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act. Although the initiative was commended by the Privacy Commissioner as a welcome step toward addressing the concerns, a modernized Privacy Act would further strengthen the federal privacy regime.

Other key highlights of the 2006 EKOS survey:

  • The proportion of Canadians reporting that they have a good or very good understanding of their privacy rights has doubled since 2001, rising from 13 to 26 per cent, which suggests that Canadians may be taking more control over of their personal information. Perhaps this explains why more than 85 per cent of them want to be informed by companies about the privacy implications of products or services they buy.
  • Approximately 8 in 10 Canadians believe their country should be equipped with strong laws to protect their personal information. The inability to have strong privacy legislation will continue to undermine trust in their government to protect their personal information seriously.
  • Although Canadians are among the most technology savvy in the world and they understand that processing personal information is core to a modern and competitive economy, only 50 per cent of those polled say they have enough information to know the privacy implications of new technologies. In response to this need and to better serve Canadians, the Office is developing information and guidance to help individuals better understand the privacy risks and implications of new technologies such as radio frequency identification devices (RFID).

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman, advocate and guardian of privacy rights in Canada.

For a copy of the 2006 EKOS Research Associates survey, please visit: Revisiting the Privacy Landscape a Year Later (

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