Evidence of meeting #10 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was year.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jennifer Stoddart  Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Elizabeth Denham  Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Chantal Bernier  Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tom Pulcine  Director General and Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Services Branch, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

12:30 p.m.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Chantal Bernier

The most recent were, as you know, FINTRAC and Transport Canada, with respect to the passenger protect program, which includes the no-fly list. In the past, yes, the Canada Border Services Agency has been the subject of an audit and follow-up. In our annual reports, Passport Canada was identified, and the RCMP was the focus of a specific report on all exempt banks. Yes, we absolutely focused on those areas.

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Given what Ms. Fraser revealed in her report, do you intend to take any specific measures?

12:30 p.m.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Chantal Bernier

Of course, that is a key consideration for us, and we will definitely take it into account when establishing our audit plan.

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Will it become your fifth priority?

12:30 p.m.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Chantal Bernier

It is part of our information technologies priority.

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

The chair is telling me that my time is up, Ms. Bernier. I apologize. Thank you for the information.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Paul Szabo

We may give you a chance to come back to that again.

Mr. Siksay.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Commissioner, I've just looked at the package that you left today. Thank you for that information on camera surveillance, but thank you for the calendar, too. It's a lot of fun, so I very much appreciate it.

12:30 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

It's going on my desk.

I wanted to ask about the situation around whole-body scanning. I know you've done some work on it. Recently, I gather, there has been some...well, there's always a lot of activity around this. I think the transport committee is actually looking at it right now and has had some interesting testimony.

But two things have caught my eye recently. One is the experience of Schiphol airport in the Netherlands. They've put in place some further requirements around whole-body scanning that remove even the direct connection between the person reviewing the scan and the person being scanned. It makes it even more indirect, but still, apparently, effective. Also, in the United States, I gather that the Department of Homeland Security was recently petitioned by a number of privacy and civil liberties organizations, who were citing a whole range of privacy concerns, to stop the deployment of whole-body scanners.

I'm just wondering if any of those reports or that other work is causing you to take a further look at this. Or are you doing an ongoing watch on this subject?

12:30 p.m.

Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Jennifer Stoddart

Yes. Thank you for the question. We do have an ongoing watch on this subject.

I'll just make two quick comments and then once again refer it to my very able assistant commissioner, who works on the national security issues.

We did look at the report analyzing the whole-body scanners in Schiphol. Interestingly enough, some of the information that came out of that test was that some people, particularly some women--stewardesses--preferred, in the context of security clearances to board planes, something like a whole-body scanner rather than being patted down, which for some people, particularly people of certain religions, can be felt as very intrusive. That gave us an interesting perspective on it.

Secondly, yes, we do watch what happens with our colleagues in Homeland Security. This is what happens in Canada now. There is no direct eyesight: there's Joe or Jane going through the scanner. I think there are some cartoons to that effect in our calendar, because we have to keep a sense of humour about all this. There's no direct line of vision in Canada. That's our understanding.

As for Homeland Security, my understanding is that they have a more powerful type of scanner than we have in Canada.

Is that true, Chantal?

12:35 p.m.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Chantal Bernier

There are a few things.

First of all, we are considering this a watching brief, and we have received assurances from CATSA that they will look at every possible technology that could make this less privacy-intrusive, such as the possibility, one day, that it not be seen by a human being. They have already told us that they're looking into that.

In relation to the U.S., as the commissioner has mentioned, they do not have quite the same policies that we have. In fact, the privacy advocates in the U.S. have called for exactly what has been implemented in Canada, meaning optional.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Okay. Thank you.

In the documentation you provided, the analysis of your employment equity group shows that you're doing very, very well in that regard. Certainly in all categories you're either above or at the level of Canadian labour market availability. I think that's something that again you need to be congratulated for. I'm sure it's a stellar record in terms of other departments and agencies.

But I wanted to ask if you do any specific gender analysis in terms of the issues that you're working on. There has been some reporting with regard to social media that women and young women participate more in that. I'm wondering if you do that kind of gender analysis of the issues that you're working on and if it's leading you in any particular direction on any specific issues.

12:35 p.m.

Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Jennifer Stoddart

Yes, I'd say that often we do. We do try to isolate the gender factor, particularly in terms of how to target our public information and what might be the particular slant in some of the youth focus groups that we had. We're not, for the moment, but I'm kind of looking for additions here.

We haven't had a kind of gender and privacy program, but I certainly remember that when CATSA said that it was going to move toward these scanners and we received a PIA, I said that I wanted women on the team. I said that I wanted women to go out and report on that, because this kind of thing can be potentially more sensitive to women and to other groups than it may be for your standard man.

I don't know. Are there other gender-based...? The fact that we are--unusually--three women means that we do try to keep this in mind.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

I also wanted to ask about this. I know that you're doing consultations and that one of the consultations is around profiling of consumers by business and online monitoring and those kinds of consumer issues. One of them that I have been aware of recently is the use of online coupons and the information about consumers that this transfers to businesses, often without the consumer knowing that.

I'm just wondering if that's something specific that you're looking at or if that will come up as part of these consultations. Or is that the kind of thing that you're even hoping is raised at these consultations?

12:35 p.m.

Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Jennifer Stoddart

Yes. Thanks. I just heard about this myself, but Assistant Commissioner Denham has been organizing these consultations.

April 27th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.

Assistant Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Elizabeth Denham

I think the issue of online coupons is going to be addressed, because what we're trying to do is understand how this information is collected and how transparent that collection is. Do consumers really understand how much of their data is collected by advertisers and third party advertisers through various means, including coupons? So yes, we're very anxious to participate and hear about all the methods of collecting personal information online.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

I have one other very quick question. It has come across my desk recently that some American states have passed laws around the implantation of microchips in human beings. I'm wondering if that's something that has crossed your desk or if it's something on your radar. Is it something that you've heard about?

12:40 p.m.

Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Jennifer Stoddart

Oh, yes, it's definitely on our radar. One of the things that helps to keep us informed is that we get virtual press clippings now. We subscribe to periodicals and news feeds. This came up five or six years ago, I think. Even before that, in 2001, I remember that Agriculture Canada and the provinces were moving to chips in animals, so it wasn't far from there to chips in people.

It's on our radar screen. We don't have any complaints, as far as I know. We're not specifically discussing chipping. There is some discussion that for certain people, such as those with Alzheimer's disease, for example, this might be a device that would be fairly benign. But we'll continue to watch it.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Thank you.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Paul Szabo

I have Ms. Davidson, Mr. Easter, and Madame Freeman for a small follow-up. Unless anyone else wants to be added to the list, that will be it.

Ms. Davidson, please.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Commissioner, when I was looking on your website, I saw a statement that I'm going to read for you, because I won't remember it exactly if I don't read it. It says:

Globalization raises the challenge of trying to find a cross-border privacy language. Technological advances hold out the promise of greater convenience, but sometimes at a cost to human rights such as privacy and the ability to control our personal information.

That's the quote from the website. Do you really think that a cross-border privacy language is possible for everyone on the Internet?

12:40 p.m.

Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Jennifer Stoddart

I guess I'm talking particularly about regulatory authorities, various organizations that different governments have tasked with trying to regulate cross-border privacy. Yes, I do think it's possible.

In the time I've been in this field, I think we've made quite a bit of progress on moving together approaches to the regulation of personal information, particularly online. There's an intense dialogue going on now between the European Union, as it's being restructured after the changes in the Lisbon treaty, and the United States, about parameters for exchange of cross-border personal information, both in the national security setting and in the consumer setting.

So yes, the good news is that while the technologies continue, the dialogue has never been, I think, as productive and congenial.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you.

When you're dealing with large companies, do you have any worries about the regulations or the rules that you have to impart to them about how they're going to operate? Are they more concerned, in most cases, about business rather than privacy? Or are you finding that it's a good mix and there's good compliance?

12:40 p.m.

Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Jennifer Stoddart

Yes. I believe that large companies in Canada have done quite a good job of implementing privacy.

Remember, one of the big sectors that we regulate is the financial and banking sector, and I think in Canada we saw during the recent economic upheavals that we have some very positive traditions in our banking and financial community. Confidentiality is one of them.

Generally I'm very happy with the uptake by big business. What is of greater concern are medium-sized and small businesses and the possible costs to them.

I'm not necessarily saying that privacy is a huge cost, but I think that sometimes there are some very enterprising people who can sell to small or medium-sized businesses a package that is unnecessarily expensive. I've heard some of them complain about that, so we've tried to focus in a section of our website on small business and what we can do for them. We're bringing out a whole new package--I think within the next month and a half--to update how small and medium-sized businesses can do privacy for themselves, at a minimal cost, without going through expensive services.