Privacy Community Speaks out Against Government Record of Failure on Privacy

| May 30, 2014

A large coalition of Canada's leading privacy experts and civil society groups wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Friday regarding the federal government's increasing failure to protect the privacy of Canadians. The letter points to the government's efforts to increase the ability of law enforcement and other state agencies' ability to exploit new technologies in order to invade Canadians' privacy (pointing specifically to Bill C-13, currently being rushed through parliamentary committee under the guise of 'cyber bullying' legislation), while steadfastly refusing to address long-standing privacy problems raised by the same technological developments. The letter specifically points to the unchecked surveillance activities of Canada's foreign intelligence agency, CSEC, and the steadfast refusal to update ageing but central privacy and transparency statutes as indication of some of the long-standing privacy problems the government has refused to act on. It calls on the government to take its review of the privacy-invasive elements of Bill C-13 seriously, and to establish a commission to examine privacy and state surveillance in the digital age.

Finally, the letter decries the controversial nomination of a government official as Privacy Commissioner of Canada. While the capabilities of the candidate -- Daniel Therrier, a senior and respected government lawyer at Public Safety Canada -- are not questioned, there is concern that he lacks the perspective necessary to immediately tackle Canada's long list of privacy challenges. The appointment is particularly controversial in light of reports that, in selecting Mr. Therrier, the government rejected its own selection committee's preferred candidate. As Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Public Safety Canada, Mr. Therrier would have been responsible for designing, overseeing and legally advising on a number of the very programs he will be called upon to challenge as Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The Letter points out that it will take time for an individual to develop the perspective necessary to challenge the very programs that individual has designed, and that leaving Canadians without an effective Privacy watchdog while this perspective is developed is indefensible. This is most problematic as the timing of this appointment, which arrives at a time when fundamental decisions that will affect the privacy of Canadians for decades are being made, effectively leaves Canada without a privacy watchdog to weigh in on these formative debates. A useful backgrounder on appointment processes for parliamentary officers such as the Privacy Commissioner of Canada by Craig Forcese can be found here.