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November 7, 2012

Letter to the Editor from Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart regarding proposed lawful access legislation

The following letter to the editor was sent November 6, 2012 to various Canadian daily newspapers that published an op-ed regarding Bill C-30 by Jim Chu, chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department and president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

My office appreciates the challenges faced by police officers in fighting online crime, with out-of-date tools and at a time of rapidly changing technologies.

We agree with Jim Chu, chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department and president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, when he states that the federal government's lawful access bill could be improved to better protect privacy rights in Canada. We were encouraged to see the head of the police association specifically support a provision to clarify privacy rights, in his recent op-ed. In fact, Bill C-30 must be amended to respect privacy rights.

Chief Chu suggests the information behind an IP address is equivalent to information found in a phone book. To me, this vastly underestimates what it may reveal about someone. Unlike a phone book, information behind an IP address is not generally publicly available and can unlock doors to much more information about people.

My office's technologists are currently looking at this, and studying the degree of privacy intrusiveness in relation to the specific information that the Bill proposes to make readily accessible to law enforcement. We are also continuing our discussions with public safety and law enforcement officials, as well as civil society, to ensure that privacy issues are adequately addressed.

It is true that law enforcement powers need to be modernized, but so too do the laws that ensure Canadians' privacy rights are fully respected. The Privacy Act, which applies to federal departments and agencies, has not been substantially amended in more than 30 years and, as a result, citizens have little mechanism for redress when things go wrong. The federal private sector privacy law, PIPEDA, is also well overdue for an update.

We look forward to elaborating on our views about Bill C-30 with parliamentarians and we will also continue to advocate for federal privacy laws that meet the challenges of this new world.

Original signed by

Jennifer Stoddart
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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