Anticipating an explosion in electronic commerce and online shopping by the turn of the century, the federal government has announced it will act to protect personal information in the private sector.
Ottawa said it intends to introduce legislation this fall that will ensure consumer information supplied online for one purpose is not used for another purpose without prior consent. Much of the information comes from filling out questionnaires about age, income, residence, and shopping habits.
The law will come into force by 2000.
People need to be told what will be done with this information, Sandra Kahale, a senior policy advisor for the federal Task Force on Electronic Commerce, said Tuesday. "You should have a choice, you should be able to say `I really only want this one service'", she said.
Canadians will have a say in how their country approaches the problem. In a discussion paper released Monday, the Departments of Justice and Industry invited the public to forward suggestions about what should be in the new legislation. The deadline for submitting suggestions is March 27.
The law will probably build on the Canadian Standards Association code, adopted in 1996, which grants consumers the right to be informed of the use and disclosure of their personal information and to amend such information as appropriate. The code, however, is a voluntary instrument, which raises the question of how to ensure consumer redress when a dispute arises.
The legislation needs to address when disclosure of personal information to third parties without consent should be permitted, the discussion paper says, and whether an authority should be established to oversee the implementation of the new legislation.
"Should the role of oversight authority be taken on by an industry association, by an industry regulator, by a privacy commissioner, or as high as a federal tribunal or court?" Kahale asked.
The initiative to protect consumer information comes as Canada looks toward becoming the most connected country in the world by the turn of the century. Consumers need to be assured of a basic level of protection and know that they have some control over personal information, the paper says.
"We need to set some ground rules for consumers; what their rights are, and for businesses; what their responsibilities are", said Kahale.
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