Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Members of the committee, thank you for inviting us here for your study of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the PIPEDA.
As you know, PIPEDA is technology-neutral and based on principles of general application, two qualities that should remain as these are strengths that make this law a flexible tool.
However, the constant and accelerating pace of technological change since the turn of the 21st century, when PIPEDA came into force, is challenging the law's effectiveness and sustainability as an instrument for protecting the privacy of Canadians.
These technological changes bring important benefits to individuals. They greatly facilitate communications, they make available a wealth of information of all sorts, and they bring products and services from all areas of the world.
But these technologies also create important risks. Internet users want to share their views and search sensitive issues like health without fear that these activities will be tracked and shared with others with adverse interests. In fact, it is an essential aspect of the right to privacy that individuals have control over with whom one they share their personal information.
New technologies also hold the promise of important benefits for society. Future economic growth will come in large part from growth in the digital economy. For instance, Canada is well placed to become a world leader in artificial intelligence, which depends on the collection and use of massive amounts of data.
The 2016 OECD Ministerial Declaration on the Digital Economy, to which Canada is a signatory, commits, among other things, to an international effort to protect privacy, recognizing its importance for economic and social prosperity. Indeed, the protection of privacy is critical for building consumer trust and enabling a vibrant, robust and competitive digital economy.
Yet, the vast majority of Canadians are worried that they are losing control of their personal information, with 92% of Canadians expressing concern, and 57% being very concerned, about a loss of privacy in our most recent public opinion poll.
Without significant improvements to the ways in which their privacy is protected, Canadians will not have the trust required for the digital economy to flourish, they will not reap all the benefits made possible through innovation and, ultimately, their rights will not be adequately respected.
Consent has always been considered a foundational element of PIPEDA, but obtaining meaningful consent has become increasingly challenging in the age of big data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and robotics.
When PIPEDA was adopted, the interactions with businesses were generally predictable, transparent and bidirectional. Consumers understood why the company that they were dealing with needed certain personal information. It is no longer entirely clear who is processing our data and for what purposes.
As such, the practicability of the current consent model has been called into question.
To be clear, I think there remains an important role for consent in protecting the right to privacy, where it can be meaningfully given with better information.
There may also be situations in which consent is maybe simply impracticable, and under appropriate conditions, it is worth exploring whether alternatives to consent can otherwise protect the privacy of Canadians. Some of these may require legislative amendments.
Through written submissions and in-person consultations with stakeholders across Canada, we've heard a broad range of suggestions.
For instance, individuals could be empowered to make decisions through simplified privacy notices. Organizations, on the other hand, could enhance their trustworthiness through the use of privacy by design, demonstrable accountability, or the adoption of industry codes of practice.
We heard that some wanted us to provide further guidance for organizations or promoting compliance through more proactive means such as audits. Others wanted us to have greater enforcement powers, a point to which I will return.
We also heard consistently that public education is essential and that more needs to be done.
We have therefore consulted a great many Canadians on the issue of consent. We are currently analyzing the proposed solutions, and many others in our general findings on the matter. We will be happy to share our consolidated findings with you once we have completed our work in mid-2017.
Another priority area for our office is reputation and privacy. Our ultimate goal here is to help create an environment in which individuals may use the Internet to explore their interests and develop as persons without fear that their digital trace will lead to unfair treatment.
As with the consent project, we started our work by issuing a discussion paper and inviting submissions. Many of the submissions received commented on the right to be forgotten, the concept arising out of the EU that individuals can request that certain links be removed from search results associated with their name. While acknowledging the potential harms that can come from a net that never forgets, some submissions raise significant concern about what a formally recognized right to be forgotten would mean for freedom of expression. Others question whether PIPEDA even applies to a number of aspects of online reputation or to search engines that are important players in that debate, and they call for other solutions instead. These ranged from greater use of targeted legislation to prevent specific harms, as we have seen in the cases of cyber-bullying and revenge porn; improved education on safe and appropriate use of the Internet, especially for vulnerable populations; and improved practices for websites and online services such as social networks. We would be pleased to inform the committee of our views once our policy position has been fully shaped later during the year.
Let me now turn to the question of enforcement powers. Enforcement is key to securing trust in the digital ecosystem. Our recent poll found that seven out of ten Canadians would be more likely to do business with companies if they were subject to financial penalties for misusing their information.
Currently my office cannot make orders or impose fines and it is, in many respects, weaker than some of our provincial and international counterparts. Industry worries that, should enforcement powers be granted to my office, organizations would be less willing to collaborate with us and negotiate toward solutions, yet my colleagues elsewhere have not had that experience. Perhaps it is time, then, to bring my office's powers in line with those of others around the world.
That being said, I also believe there is an important role for proactive compliance. Organizations are using data in innovative ways to derive value, and Canadians expect this activity to be regulated. A proactive approach to overseeing compliance at the front end before complaints happen would bring certainty to the market and further reassure Canadians that their concerns are being addressed.
Given time considerations, I will stop here, but let me conclude—can I continue?