Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, I don't have a formal statement but I will make a few remarks that may situate the debate. I hope this will be useful.
Last week, my office published a draft position paper on the question of online reputation. Of course, the first question that one might ask is why; what is the relevance of this? We have been told by Canadians that they are concerned about the growing risks to their reputation online. We want to provide people with greater control to protect themselves from these reputational risks.
Those risks exist because protecting reputation is increasingly difficult in the digital age. Information about us is systematically indexed and easily accessed and shared. Online information about us can easily be distorted or taken out of context, and it is often extremely difficult to remove.
Our report makes a number of key recommendations or decisions.
First, it says that PIPEDA should be interpreted as providing the right to ask search engines to de-index web pages that contain inaccurate, incomplete, or outdated information. We think there is grounding in the current PIPEDA for that.
Second, there should be removal or amendment of information at the source in certain situations.
Third, and very importantly, we advocate for much more education on this issue, education that we can be part of within our public education mandate. However, we think, on this issue in particular, it would be important that provincial and territorial governments take up our recommendation that privacy should be part of the curriculum in schools so that children are taught at an early age, one, how to protect themselves, and two, how to behave responsibly as online citizens.
While I think there is a legal basis in PIPEDA for the remedies found in our paper, it's also important that this issue be considered by you as elected officials. We know that this is a controversial issue and that a number of people, stakeholders, are of the view that this would unduly impact freedom of expression. We know that. At the same time, it's important that we act, that the OPC acts based on the current law. However, it is a very legitimate issue to examine what the right balance should be between protecting reputation and privacy interests on one hand, and freedom of expression on the other.
When the Office of the Privacy Commissioner drafted the Draft Position on Online Reputation, and more specifically examined the role of de-indexing, we were not attempting to create new rights or powers. Rather, we were attempting to apply the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, in its current form. However, as I just said, this raises questions in connexion with respecting freedom of expression. We think it is particularly important that elected representatives, who represent the Canadian population, examine this issue.
In addition to studying the matter of the balance between privacy and freedom of expression, you may want to take advantage of this opportunity to examine certain important natural justice or procedural issues which private sector stakeholders, particularly search engine representatives, have drawn to our attention. More particularly, if a citizen asks a search engine or a private organization to de-index or erase some information, which procedural rights may those entities cite in defence of their point of view in favour of freedom of expression, and against the de-indexing or the removal of information?
One question has already been examined by the committee in its review of PIPEDA. You may also want to examine the effects of possible differences between how these rights are exercised in Canada and in Europe, when studying the adequacy and appropriateness of Canadian legislation as compared to European law.
My last point will be this. I recognize that de-indexing is not necessarily a perfect solution for protecting reputation, but I think it's important to ask because it is important to protect reputation, and I think it's important that I act on the basis of the law that I must administer and enforce. However, there is a question as to whether the law, as it is, is the best means to protect reputation.
As you look at this question, I would ask you to consider what the alternatives are. The first question would be, is it worth protecting reputations? If you agree that it is, de-indexing and takedown are the tools I have under the current PIPEDA. If that's not good, what are the alternatives? There are not many alternatives, but maybe you should consider and hear from witnesses what the alternatives should be.