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Privacy Commissioner welcomes a new era in privacy protection

OTTAWA, April 17, 2000-A major improvement in the laws protecting Canadians' privacy rights results from the passage of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, says Bruce Phillips, Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The Act - which received Royal Assent April 13 and comes into force on January 1, 2001 - establishes for the first time a comprehensive national set of rules which govern the collection, use and disclosure of personal information in the commercial world.

"The right to privacy is one of the essential underpinnings of human dignity and autonomy in our democratic society," said Bruce Phillips, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada since 1991. "I am delighted that Parliament has endorsed as a fundamental civil right our ability to control what others can learn about us. At the same time, the Act also respects legitimate business needs to gather and use personal information and will protect Canada's international markets by bringing our privacy standards into line with those of our European trading partners."

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act recognizes an individual's right to privacy of personal information in commercial activities. The Act assigns the role of oversight to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and authorizes him to investigate complaints and to review organizations' information-handling practices. He is independent of government and business and will act as an ombudsman for privacy in the private sector, a role the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has exercised in the federal public sector under the Privacy Act since 1983.

"As an ombudsman, my approach places maximum emphasis on problem-solving and minimum emphasis on blame-finding," said Mr. Phillips. "My basic weapons are patience, persuasion, common sense and, if need be, publicity."

The principles of fair information practice incorporated into the new law were developed by representatives of the private sector, government and consumer groups. The principles require organizations to obtain consent when they collect, use or disclose personal information and must allow individuals to challenge the accuracy or completeness of information about them. Organizations must also designate an official responsible for their information-handling practices and receiving complaints from the public.

In the coming year, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner will inform the public about the new legislation and work with private sector organizations, helping them to prepare for implementation. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner's toll-free number is 1-800-282-1376.

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