This is my first time before this committee, and it's a pleasure to be here this morning. I look forward to some discussion after we present our opening remarks. Thank you for welcoming my departmental officials.
As you know, and as you've been studying, the Privacy Act is a quasi-constitutional law that affects almost all activities of government. It has not been substantially reformed since it came into force in 1983.
You might approach Privacy Act reform by asking two questions. First, does the act contain the right principles for Canada in the 21st century? Second, does it feature the right rules and mechanisms to put them into effect? My remarks will focus on how we can move Canada forward in answering these two questions.
When we think about reforming the 1983 Privacy Act, our first instinct may be to focus on the impacts of changes in technology. Those changes can seem dizzying. Big data finds unprecedented ways of harnessing information. The Internet of things promises to cover human environments in a web of coordinated sensors and processors. The growth of artificial intelligence brings new ways of solving complex problems, and with quantum computing on the more distant horizon, there is the possibility that in our lifetime we will see an explosion of processing power with effects we can only dimly imagine.
Speculation about technology is exciting. It can also be scary. It might provide the push for law reform, but it does not provide the direction. Instead, I want to talk with you about two unchanging landmarks from which we can take our bearings for the review of the Privacy Act. They are trust and connection.
When you look at strong communities, democratic institutions, and functioning markets, one thing is clear. When people connect through relationships and networks based on trust, they can achieve great things, and great things should be in store for Canada. We are poised to be an open, secure, inclusive, prosperous, creative, and democratic information society. I am proud to be part of a government that is working on these goals.
To achieve them, Canadians need to connect with each other, with civil organizations, and with other democratic institutions. To connect, we need to be able to trust. When we connect with government online to seek information or a service, we need to be able to trust that the information we supply will be treated reasonably and respectfully, according to the law. We need to know that we can trust the connected systems that allow us to travel, communicate, enjoy safe food, and receive government benefits. We need to be able to trust that connecting with government will never make us vulnerable to manipulation or unjustified intrusions on our privacy.
Because ours is a democracy in which we collectively set rules for governments, we need to understand what governments do with information about us. The Privacy Act sets a basic framework for the protection of privacy in Canadians' relationships with government.
I agree with successive privacy commissioners, academics, organizations, parliamentarians, and Canadians who say that this basic framework in the Privacy Act is long overdue for a thorough review. That is why I have asked my officials in the Department of Justice to lead concentrated work, alongside other departments, towards modernizing the act.
The way I see it, privacy is not a drag on government institutions that are trying to achieve other important goals. Instead, privacy is a social good that makes all our collective projects better and more likely to succeed. Our government understands this.
The mandate letter handed to me by the Prime Minister asks me to ensure that our government's policy goals can be achieved with the least possible interference with the rights and privacy of Canadians. I will work closely with my colleague, the President of the Treasury Board, who is responsible for the way the act is implemented across government. I will also work closely with my other colleagues whose portfolios use personal information as they serve Canadians. I hope to continue what this committee has started by connecting with Canadians of all groups and generations as we review the Privacy Act.
In your study, I encourage you to tackle some of the tough questions, always focusing on connections based on trust. For example, how should the act, which was designed to be technologically neutral, take account of the changes in technology? How can the act also serve us amid global, federal, provincial, and territorial flows of information in the service of important Canadian projects? How could the principles in the act guide government innovations to find new ways to serve Canadians better?
I think these questions are worthy of your committee's study. Eminent witnesses have appeared before you, such as the Privacy Commissioner, professional organizations, officials from other jurisdictions, government representatives, and accomplished academics. You are well equipped to influence the government's review of the Privacy Act and to effect the development of the law.
I encourage you not only to make recommendations but also to state considerations, questions, and areas for further study. I very much look forward to the results of your deliberations and your excellent—I'm assuming—report that's going to come forward and inform the work I'm undertaking.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.