moved that Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in my place today to begin second reading of Bill C-29, the safeguarding Canadians' personal information act.
I would like to thank those following me on Twitter for being so patient. I have been telling them I was going to be rising to speak on this bill for about an hour now. They can rest assured that I am fulfilling my responsibilities as industry minister as I debate this bill.
This bill is about privacy in the digital age and is, therefore, an important element of Canada's emerging digital economy strategy.
Internet technology has brought many benefits and has changed our society in sometimes profound ways. It has made distance irrelevant for many and improved our overall quality of life. It has changed the way we communicate with one another, how we network, how we socialize with another. It has revolutionized our economic models, transforming how businesses, large and small, manage their supply chains and expand their reach. Businesses use the Internet to customize their products and manage relationships with their customers.
However, the digital economy has challenges as well as benefits. The Internet can be used to broaden a company's marketing base and collect a great deal of information. Most of this information is personal, and many would prefer that it remain private. There is basic information such as names, addresses and dates of birth. There is also very personal information about health, criminal records and credit card numbers.
So in the wrong hands any of this information could be used for malicious purposes, such as identity theft or bank fraud. But even when not used for malicious or illegal purposes, the unauthorized revelation of personal information to outside third parties constitutes an invasion of the privacy that most Canadians value highly.
We want to ensure that concerns about privacy and the protection of personal information do not undermine the potential of the digital economy to continue to change our lives for the better. After all, some 80% of Canadians use the Internet and 88% of businesses are online. The total value of online commerce in Canada in 2007 was $62.7 billion. We want to grow that business, and to do so we need to establish an environment of confidence and trust in online transactions.
Currently in this place Bill C-28, the fighting Internet and wireless spam act, is under consideration as well. It would provide a solid foundation for combating spam and various forms of malicious Internet activity. That bill, together with the bill I rise to support today, is part of our agenda for putting Canada at the forefront of the digital economy.
PIPEDA, as it is called, has codified in law a set of privacy principles that had already been well established. The Canadian Standards Association model code for the protection of personal information provides the foundation for privacy protection, no matter what the technology.
The standard was developed through careful consideration among government, industry, consumers and privacy advocates and has been recognized internationally. In fact, international recognition was an important concern when building the PIPEDA regulatory regime.
One of the early tests PIPEDA faced was whether the European Commission would recognize that it provided adequate privacy protection for the purposes of the EU data protection directive. The European Commissioner has recognized PIPEDA's regime. As a result, organizations subject to PIPEDA can receive personal data from EU member states. I point this out as an example of how framework laws such as PIPEDA, our privacy protection legislation, are essential for the competitiveness that we need for the digital economy.
PIPEDA's flexible, principles-based approach has allowed the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to examine challenges to our privacy posed by new technologies that collect and store massive amounts of personal information. We have become international champions of privacy in the age of social media.
PIPEDA is a very effective component of the legislative framework. But a good law can always be made better. Thus, it must be reviewed every five years.
The first such review was completed by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in May 2007. I want to reiterate the thanks to the committee that were given at that time by my predecessor as industry minister, the current Minister of the Environment.
The committee heard from 67 witnesses and considered 34 submissions from individuals and organizations. The report concluded that PIPEDA does not require major changes at this time, but at the same time it presented 25 recommendations addressing issues raised during review.
In October 2007, the government tabled its response to the report; it dealt with each of the 25 recommendations. Even though no substantive changes are required, our government made a commitment to amend the act in keeping with a number of the report's recommendations. We will also work with stakeholders to ensure that the changes made are as effective as possible.
To guide the government's approach to this commitment, Industry Canada organized more than 25 meetings with stakeholders. It met with businesses, consumer and privacy advocates, Canada's Privacy Commissioner, the provincial governments and enforcement agencies. The department also received 76 written representations in the Canada Gazette after the consultation process.
The bill before us responds to the recommendations of the committee and to what we learned from the Industry Canada consultation. The amendments contained in the bill will further enhance Canada's reputation as a world leader in privacy protection. We will maintain one of the world's most effective regimes for the protection of personal information in the digital age.
The amendments before us can be divided into four broad categories designed to do the following: protect and empower consumers, clarify and streamline rules for business, support effective law enforcement and security investigations and address technical issues.
Let me summarize. First, to protect and empower consumers we have added new provisions to the act and amended existing ones. To protect the privacy of minors online, we have enhanced the consent provisions.
Under the amendments before us, consent is only valid when obtained from an individual who can reasonably be expected to understand the nature and consequences of the transaction or the communication being proposed.
To help deter financial abuse, locate injured, ill or missing persons and to help identify the deceased, the act will be amended to allow for disclosure of personal information to the relevant authorities or the next of kin. Financial organizations, for example, would be able to contact law agencies, friends or family members of individuals who are suspected to be victims or potential victims of financial abuse. This is in response to situations commonly referred to as elder financial abuse.
Even more important, this bill will introduce new requirements. Organizations will have to report significant breaches to the commissioner and notify the people affected when a breach poses a risk of harm.
This is a risk-based approach to providing notifications of privacy breaches. It recognizes that not all breaches pose a risk to consumers. It also recognizes the risk of too many notifications. In fact, consumers might not respond appropriately when a breach poses a real risk. With this approach, the commissioner is informed of the nature and extent of privacy breaches so that she can monitor and defend privacy issues.
The second broad category of amendments will clarify and streamline rules for businesses. We are making these changes in response to calls from business to help clarify their responsibilities under PIPEDA. They will help businesses comply with the law.
These amendments will ensure access to information that is critical to the regular conduct of business. This will facilitate such functions as managing employment relationships and conducting due diligence for business transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions.
The amendments would also allow employers to disclose, as required, professional information, including emails, that their employees produce in the course of their daily activities. The new provisions will facilitate the legitimate activities of the public and private sectors, in the financial sector, for the purposes of investigations and fraud prevention. In accordance with the government's paper burden reduction initiative, these provisions will replace a tedious regulatory process.
The third broad category of amendments will support effective law enforcement and security investigations. These amendments remove barriers to investigations that were unintended by Parliament when PIPEDA was enacted. They will clarify that the act allows organizations to collaborate with law enforcement in situations where there is no warrant.
Amendments will also prohibit organizations from notifying individuals, without prior approval from law enforcement, that the police have requested information about them. This will help prevent the disappearance of suspects and the destruction of evidence.
PIPEDA of course, the current privacy legislation, is a good act. It has put Canada at the forefront of online privacy protection, but we can and we should make a good act even better. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics created a road map for us in its report. We are following that route, and with the further help from the advice of the Privacy Commissioner and the many individuals and organizations who have consulted with Industry Canada over the past two years, we will do so.
Taken in a broader context, these amendments are part of a much bigger initiative to put Canada at the forefront of the digital economy. Our economic performance in the 21st century will depend in large part on the trust and confidence Canadians have in online transactions. From the foundation of that trust and confidence, we can build a digital economy that will bring prosperity and quality of life to Canadians for generations to come.
With this in mind, I encourage all hon. members to join me in supporting the bill.