TORONTO -- Ontario's privacy commissioner has had a long-term romantic relationship with a man who headed a company that makes a technology she has endorsed.
Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, a proponent of the system that would protect the privacy of welfare recipients who are fingerprinted, said the relationship has not undermined her independence. "I do not believe now, nor then, that there was a conflict", she said in an interview yesterday.
But an opposition critic said she appears to be in a conflict of interest. "The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I think the public will look at that and say, 'That's very suspicious, how very strange'", said Sandra Pupatello, the social services critic for the Ontario Liberals.
Ms. Cavoukian confirmed that she began dating George Tomko in the fall of 1996. At the time, she was Ontario's assistant privacy commissioner and he was chairman of Mytec Technologies, a Toronto company that developed a fingerprint-based identification and security system. Ms. Cavoukian's office has been asked periodically to comment on privacy issues in connection with fingerprinting. Three years ago, Toronto officials announced plans for a pilot project. Ontario Premier Mike Harris later mused about taking electronic fingerprints of every welfare recipient in the province, and consulted Ms. Cavoukian's office.
After Ms. Cavoukian started dating Mr. Tomko, she declared the relationship to her superior, Tom Wright, who was the privacy commissioner at the time. "It wasn't an issue. I wasn't involved in direct decision making."
When Ms. Cavoukian was promoted to commissioner in May, 1997, she raised the issue again, this time with retired Mr. Justice Gregory Evans, who was Ontario's integrity commissioner at the time. Judge Evans told her there was no conflict, she said. Judge Evans said yesterday he stands by his opinion.
A spokeswoman for the current integrity commissioner, Robert Rutherford, said the office deals only with conflict involving members of the Ontario Legislature.
Ms. Cavoukian endorsed the technology, finger-scanning with some built-in privacy components, in a report released in June, 1997. Two years earlier, she and Mr. Wright had written a paper that helped win support for encrypted fingerprinting from privacy commissioners elsewhere. Ms. Cavoukian was not involved with Mr. Tomko at the time and cited the 1995 report as evidence her support for the technology was not affected by her relationship with Mr. Tomko. "The position that I take on biometrics was established long before I was dating George and really has very little to do with him."
Mytec did not get the contract.