Evidence of meeting #32 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was subamendment.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Elizabeth Denham  Assistant Privacy Commissioner , Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Carman Baggaley  Senior Policy Advisor, Legal Services, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Daniel Caron  Legal Counsel, Legal Services, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

What harm would be caused by allowing companies like Canpages and Google to have the same exemptions as media and artistic initiatives have?

10:10 a.m.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner , Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Elizabeth Denham

I suppose it's because they could be using the data for other purposes.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

What kinds of purposes would concern you?

10:10 a.m.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner , Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Elizabeth Denham

They could build, from this application, other applications. They could retain the data and use it for other purposes.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

What kinds of purposes would be harmful?

10:10 a.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Legal Services, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Carman Baggaley

Let me take that.

One of the reasons that Google doesn't trouble us as much as other types of surveillance is that their surveillance is at a certain point in time. If you allow Google to use the argument that it's a journalistic exercise, then it's perhaps a small step for a company, instead of taking images at a point in time, to install cameras at some location and to catch people going past that point 24 hours day, 365 days a week. Then I think you can maybe see potential harm, because then you could discover that a particular person goes by that point every day at that time.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

I'm just asking if you can give me some laws—

10:10 a.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Legal Services, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Carman Baggaley

Well, if you're looking at children—

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

—because laws and interdictions exist to prevent harm.

What harm would Canadians need to worry about in particular?

10:10 a.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Legal Services, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Carman Baggaley

A potential harm would be if the images that are being captured are of young children or certain other types of vulnerable people. There's the potential harm of humiliation if the images are continually capturing, in certain cities, some people who are intoxicated for whatever reason. The images would reflect badly on them or humiliate them and cause them various types of personal harm.

That's the type of potential you would have if you allow Google to use a journalistic exemption; it would open the door to other types of surveillance.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

If I could just pick up on that point, could the same kinds of humiliation, as you've described, not exist with present journalistic exemptions? If someone is in the streets and is intoxicated, they could be photographed and put in a newspaper or on the evening news. So what's the difference?

I'm just looking for a clear reason why we would say.... And believe me, I agree with the journalistic exemption and think it's necessary for freedom of speech. But I'm trying to get the exact distinction between why we would allow that, but not—

10:15 a.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Legal Services, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Carman Baggaley

Newspapers do have certain codes of standards. There are voluntary bodies to try to deal with those issues. Certainly in some cases there have been people who have successfully challenged that in the province of Quebec, where, admittedly, the law is different. But in the province of Quebec there have been cases where individuals have taken successful action with respect to newspapers. I know that our office and commissioner are very interested in the fact that individuals in those kinds of situations do not necessarily have the recourse they should perhaps have to protect their privacy and dignity in situations where PIPEDA doesn't apply because there is no commercial activity.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

You've raised the concern of someone who is perhaps intoxicated in the street and would therefore be susceptible to humiliation were their images to be captured and spread through digital cartography. Would such a person be visible to the naked eye on the street?

10:15 a.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Legal Services, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Carman Baggaley

Yes, but there is a significant difference between what I may observe walking down the street in that very momentary glimpse and what is permanently captured in an image that can be seen not by a handful of people, but by thousands of people, or in fact by millions or tens of millions of people when the image is put on the Internet.

In fact, that's one of the challenges posed by these types of technologies. We all observe things in passing and we probably forget about them, but when that image is collected, retained, and can be seen in perpetuity by tens of millions of people, suddenly the privacy balance shifts dramatically.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Can I just ask one very short question?

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Paul Szabo

I know that you can. The issue is whether you may.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

May I?

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Paul Szabo

Please.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Now I'm not sure if I can.

All right. So you believe that when someone is in a public place on the street, they are giving consent to be seen by other people in the same place, but they have not given consent to be seen all around the world. Is that what you're saying?

10:15 a.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Legal Services, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Carman Baggaley

I wouldn't quite put it in terms of consent. Perhaps something like “reasonable expectation” is a better way of putting it. If I walk down the street, I reasonably expect that other people will observe me. I may be wearing an ugly tie and some people might note that. Whether--

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

I think it's a very handsome tie you're wearing.

October 22nd, 2009 / 10:15 a.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Legal Services, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Carman Baggaley

Whether I want that image of me wearing an ugly tie to be captured on the Internet--and I can think of much more harmful examples--I think that's the difference. It's more reasonable expectation, I think, than consent.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Paul Szabo

Mr. Siksay, please, for five minutes.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Thank you, Chair.

I want to come back to the question of Facebook and social networking. You've mentioned the report the commission undertook. Can you tell me about the genesis of that report on social network site privacy?

10:15 a.m.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner , Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Elizabeth Denham

I enjoy telling the Facebook story. In 2008 we received a complaint from CIPPIC, which is a legal clinic based at the University of Ottawa. It was a comprehensive complaint. I think there were 24 allegations about all aspects of the Facebook experience and it landed, thump, on our desks.

It took us about 14 months to complete the investigation. It was a very challenging investigation, because Facebook makes changes almost daily to its site, so trying to investigate.... We're used to investigating a static application or a static policy. Well, as you know, Facebook is a shape-shifter, as I call them, because they do shift their policies, their practices, and, during this investigation, even the look of their site.

We negotiated with them for, as I say, 14 months. There were four major outstanding issues that they did not agree to change. One of the two significant issues for us was the openness of their platform to third-party applications. Third parties offer games and quizzes, such as: “If you were a Muppet character, which Muppet character would you be?” That's a third party operating in one of 180 different countries around the world. They have access to your profile page and data flows, with very little control, and that includes the data of your friends on Facebook.

So there was the third-party application issue and the over-sharing of personal information that was a significant issue for us, as well as the long-term retention of accounts that individuals wanted to deactivate. In our privacy law, individuals have the right to be forgotten. If you want to pull your data off a social networking site, we believe that it should be deleted.

Those were the two major outstanding issues. At the end of the day, Facebook agreed with all of our recommendations and committed to retrofit their entire application platform globally. They're making these changes globally as a result of our report.