The National Post
Thursday, April 15, 1999

Privacy advocates claim laws too loose

Pending legislation criticized for failing to protect personal data

by David Akin

Advocates of toughening privacy laws warned yesterday that pending federal legislation fails to give individuals enough control over personal data.

But a University of Ottawa law professor suggests that the politicians studying Bill C-54, An Act to Protect Personal Information in the Private Sector, understand the issues at stake and favour stronger privacy rights.

The standing committee on industry tabled its report earlier this week with suggested amendments to the legislation. The bill now returns to the House of Commons for its third and final reading.

The bill is part of a suite of legislation John Manley, the Industry Minister, is bringing before the House that sets out the rules for electronic commerce and Internet governance.

Part of the legislation governs the way companies can use sophisticated computerized processes for collecting and analyzing large databases of personal information.

When Mr. Manley unveiled the legislation last fall, it was given cautious approval by both industry groups and those trying to strengthen online civil rights and protection.

But now, some advocates say Bill C-54 has been watered down by the committee and contains more relaxed rules favoured by some industry groups.

Darrell Evans, executive director of the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said industry associations prefer self-regulation to tough new government laws.

"Self-regulation in this context is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop", said Mr. Evans. "As long as businesses can make a buck out of unauthorized collection, use, or disclosure of personal information, you can bet that they will do so. This is why we need government to step in with strong legislated protections."

"It's alarming", said Pippa Lawson, legal counsel for the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre, in the statement released yesterday by Electronic Frontier Canada. "What was originally intended as legislation to stop corporations from abusing personal information, risks being turned into a licence for some of them to do just that."

Michael Geist, a professor of law at Ottawa University, said the committee report favours privacy rights. "The committee has clearly heard the concerns of privacy advocates and significantly improved many aspects of the bill", he said in electronic correspondence yesterday.

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