Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm pleased to be back at your committee. I'm pleased to have with me today Joyce Murray, the Treasury Board parliamentary secretary, as well as Jennifer Dawson, the deputy chief information officer at Treasury Board.
The Privacy Act governs personal information-handling practices of government institutions. It applies to all the personal information we collect, use, and disclose about individuals or federal employees. It gives Canadians the right to access their personal information held by a government institution and gives them the right to request that the information be corrected if something is in fact inaccurate.
The Privacy Act, as my colleague, the Minister of Justice said, came into effect in 1983.
Since the 1980s, advances in technology have provided many new ways of collecting and using personal information. Protecting this information is something we take very seriously, and it’s our responsibility under the Privacy Act to do so.
As the justice minister pointed out, we know the act needs modernizing. Treasury Board, as the administrator of the act, will be working closely with the justice minister, who will be leading this review. We will look forward to your committee's work to provide recommendations on how we can, among other things, modernize the law for the digital age.
The Treasury Board oversees the administration of the act across government. The Minister of Justice plays an important role, as the Privacy Commissioner of course reports to Parliament through the justice minister. Our two departments work together to support about 240 government institutions that are subject to the act. I would like to take a moment to break down some of the key statistics around the administration of the Privacy Act.
Canadians submitted more than 67,000 requests for their own personal information in 2014-15. That has been increasing by about 4% per year since 1983. Seventy per cent of the personal information requests were responded to within 30 days. Another 11% were completed within the permitted 30-day extension.
In 2014-15, government institutions reported 206 material privacy breaches to Treasury Board or TBS. A material breach involves sensitive personal information and could reasonably be expected to cause injury or harm. The secretariat receives and reviews reports of material privacy breaches by federal institutions, and we support institutions in the follow-up to these breaches. In April 2016, I stated that the government will work with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to improve breach reporting, and TBS is currently engaging with the office to strengthen reporting of material privacy breaches.
Also, within the secretariat, we set policies on how the act is to be administered, we provide support to government institutions as they carry out their responsibilities under the act, and we monitor their performance. We collect data from all government institutions and publish it in an annual statistical report on the administration of the act. This strengthens or contributes to accountability and transparency in how Canadians' personal information is protected and managed.
In my mandate letter, the Prime Minister asked me to ensure Canadians have easier access to their personal data.
In Budget 2016, we committed to two measures to do just that. First, we’re creating a simple, central website, where Canadians can submit requests for information about themselves to any government institution.
Secondly, we will not only make it easier to request personal information, but we will improve the speed of the government's response. There will be a 30-day guarantee for fulfilling such requests. If the response takes longer than 30 days, government institutions will have to provide the requester and the Privacy Commissioner with a written explanation for the delay, and we'll work with the Privacy Commissioner to develop new policy directions to implement this.
The fact is, we need to find the best ways to balance Canadians' need for better services with protecting their privacy. In closing, let me emphasize that balancing openness and transparency with protecting personal data is part of modernizing government in the digital age. We're continuously working to ensure that citizens' personal information held by government is well managed and that they have easy and timely access to it.
We are looking forward to working with parliamentarians and to your report. We are also looking forward to the justice minister's lead in terms of reforming the Privacy Act. During that period, we'll be working closely together to provide advice from the perspective of Treasury Board in terms of our role once that report is completed.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.