Evidence of meeting #42 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Teresa Scassa  Canada Research Chair Information Law, Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, University of Ottawa
  • Michael Geist  Canada Research Chair, Internet and E-commerce Law, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
  • Valerie Steeves  Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa

May 31st, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

It's been a fascinating discussion. I certainly think we always have to keep the potential in mind. Indeed, the democratic involvement of new media is very transformative.

My concern is about the issue of function creep, this notion we're hearing around the table that if you sign an agreement, you make your consent. But you consent for a specific piece of information that you share, and yet that information is then re-shared and re-shared into this vast data mine. This is a question of privacy rights that has to be clarified when we are signing onto something.

My daughter in grade 9 emailed me the other day and told me she wasn't allowed on her Gmail account unless she gave Google her cellphone number. I thought that was really odd. I phoned her and asked her what happened. She told me she couldn't get her Gmail unless she gave Google her cell number.

The next day my Gmail account came up, and it told me to put in my cellphone number, please, for greater security. I didn't want to give them my cellphone number. My grade 9 daughter is smarter than me, and she wasn't going to give hers. You had to look down at the bottom of the page for a very small thing that said “Click if you don't want to do this”.

When you look at it, they were asking my 14-year-old daughter to give them her cell number. Now, Google is a great corporate citizen, but she didn't sign on to Gmail to give them her cellphone information.

I guess in this question of function creep, I'm wondering what role we have in terms of saying, okay, wait a minute; that's beyond the pale. Are you going to use this cellphone number of a teenaged girl strictly for her personal security, or is this going to be added into the vast data mine that someone else is going to be able to access?

I think these are questions that we have an obligation to ask as legislators.

12:30 p.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa

Dr. Valerie Steeves

Perhaps I can make just one quick comment.

If you look at identity theft, typically the solution is always “Give me more of your information so I can make sure it's you”, which just creates more leaks, which just increases the risk that the information will flow and be used against you.

So to call it a “security” measure is kind of funny.

12:30 p.m.

Canada Research Chair Information Law, Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, University of Ottawa

Dr. Teresa Scassa

To go back to a point that was made earlier, the notion of transparency is an incredibly important one, because people aren't necessarily aware that the piece of data that they give consent to in one context—or that they've given a certain consent to but may not have realized the scope of that consent.... They may not realize the nature of the bargain between themselves and the free company. A lot of people don't realize that Gmail is scanned to extract personal information and that this is part of the bargain with Gmail. So there's a lack of transparency at that end.

There's also a lack of transparency at the other end, when you go on a website. Professor Steeves has described a number of contexts where you're presented with advertisements when you go to read the paper, go to MSN, or wherever. I think there's a lack of transparency. People don't necessarily realize that what they're seeing is different from what other people see, and that there is a reason for that.

I don't know if that's partly a norm setting. We've also talked about setting boundaries, not just letting everything be carried by the consent model, but actually setting some norms or boundaries, which I think is a positive thing.

Then there's the increasing transparency dimension of the problem and whether that's greater public awareness or obligation on companies to do more to be more transparent.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Mr. Geist has 30 seconds for a quick answer.

12:35 p.m.

Canada Research Chair, Internet and E-commerce Law, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Michael Geist

I'd just note that there are companies that address the issue that we've been hearing about, this notion that they think you're someone, but perhaps you're not that person. For example, even Google gives you that ability, and it's quite striking when you do it. Google has a section where they'll tell you who they think you are and what you like based on all the information they've been able to cull.

Now, you can have them turn that off if you want. You can also tell them they have it wrong, and that this is actually who you are, because you want to see stuff that better reflects some of your interests. Some people say they don't want to tell them who they are or what their interests are. Other people say they'd rather see that sort of stuff.

My point is that there are companies out there that are thinking about those issues. If we can get the right framework with the right incentives from a regulation perspective, I think there are some good opportunities here.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Thank you.

We will wrap this up with Ms. Davidson. You have about two and a half minutes.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

My question is going to be for Professor Steeves.

I was certainly very interested in the research you've done on children's privacy. I have two or three questions. I'll ask them and then let you address them if you can.

First of all, do we have access to this study? What ages were the children that you did the research on? How did you define “personal” or “private” information when you were talking to these kids?

We've had a very high incidence of suicide with young people in my riding. I just spoke with a very concerned, distraught parent this week whose daughter was 14 years old and had threatened suicide. She had not committed suicide, thank goodness, but it came down to where the parent was thoroughly convinced that it was social media that had tipped the balance and caused the worst threat to this child. It was over a release of information that was going broadly across the community in the school of things that she felt were personal.

Could you comment on those questions, please?

12:35 p.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa

Dr. Valerie Steeves

The study was conducted with children between the ages of 11 and 17, and parents with kids of those ages. It's available online, and I'd be happy to make it available to the committee. We also collected a lot of data about cyber-bullying, which is what you're alluding to, the problem that people can say things in this environment and kids can take it the wrong way and lose control.

Our data actually suggest the opposite. The kids we talked to indicated that cyber-bullying was easier to deal with than real-world bullying because it leaves a paper trail. You can point and say, “See, she said that”, and you can go to adults and get some help. They were well aware of the fact that kids are more likely to say things that are a little bit more outrageous because it's not face to face. But they said, “Well, that's easy, as you can just confront them face to face; and if not, then you go and get a parent. That's when you need help from your parents”.

There isn't a lot of empirical evidence to support the position that this form of bullying is actually exacerbating suicidal tendencies. There is evidence to suggest it's the opposite, that it's actually easier to deal with.

What we did get very clearly from the kids, and you'll see that if you look at the report, is that their schools' response to bullying has been with zero-tolerance policies and total surveillance. That means they can't go to the school, they can't go to the teacher, even if it's a teacher they trust, because they know the principal will be called in, then the cops will be called in, and they'll lose control.

In many ways, we're over-reacting to a particular problem and not giving them the support they need precisely because we're trying to protect them.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Thank you.

That concludes the testimony. I thank you for being here today and I hope that we can meet again. I feel sure that your testimony will help the members of the committee in their deliberations.

We are going to suspend the meeting for a few minutes.

Before we finish, Ms. Steeves, for those documents that you are going to send to the committee, all you have to do is send the link or the documents to the clerk.

12:40 p.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa

12:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

We will make sure that all committee members get access to them as quickly as possible.

With that, we suspend the meeting for a few minutes and then we will move to committee business.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

We now resume the meeting.

Before we start, I should tell members of the committee that the information commissioner has sent in her “report cards” as we call them here. For your information, if you want to see them, they are available.

Mr. Del Mastro, do you want to speak before we begin?

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

As we're now in committee business, Mr. Chair, I would move that the committee go in camera.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Unfortunately, we cannot debate that motion.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

I ask for a recorded vote.