Mr. Speaker, my interest in the bill is from having recently spent three years on the access to information, privacy and ethics committee, where I got to know a fair bit about the Privacy Act and PIPEDA, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, and their importance to the protection of Canadians' privacy.
Throughout this debate, a lot of assertions have been made that somehow a great deal of private information is going to be transferred consequential to a flight going over U.S. soil or through their airspace. It is not quite that straightforward.
Bill C-42 is a very short bill. In fact, the information is not prescribed in the bill. That has to be handled through the Aeronautics Act and through the regulations.
When I asked the question earlier, what information did the particular member who spoke on this believe was going to be disclosed, the member rattled off a litany of information, such as what hotel someone was staying at, and a whole bunch of other things. That is not correct. There is not this laundry list of information.
If a person wants to stand in the House and claim, “I am the defender of the privacy rights of Canadians”, and to make general statements raising the spectre of a bogeyman and the invasion of privacy and say that, “I'm protecting them and I'm going to challenge this bill”, there has to be some substance to it. Politically, it is easy to say, “I'm defending privacy rights”. It is like saying, “I have the flag on my chest here and I'm going to protect Canadians”. However, there has to be a substantive way that someone can demonstrate they are protecting Canadians. They have to protect Canadians against something, and that something happens to be information that we provide in many ways when we travel to the United States. We must have a passport these days, with our name, our address, our birthdate, our passport number, and information on everywhere we have travelled. The U.S. has access to that. That is as much information as will be given under the intent of Bill C-42 when someone is flying over U.S. airspace.
The issue was always whether or not there was an obligation or duty to respect another country's right to protect its own airspace. Indeed, when we look at the testimony before committee, and I have looked at the testimony from November last year, particularly the testimony of the Privacy Commissioner when she appeared, and a number of other witnesses, including representatives of the Government of the United States, the Government of Canada, the aviation industry, and a very large list of civil rights groups that had expressed concern about the disclosure of information, it is clear that the bottom line or conclusion of the proceedings of the committee was that there was no choice. We had to allow the requested information to be given.
Thus I guess some of the questions, and maybe members who are not sure may want to inform themselves by other ways, are: who is going to decide what information it will be, where that information is to reside, and when it is going to happen.
This whole thing was supposed to be in place by the end of 2010. It is not. We are carrying on here; we have not completed this bill.
However, I would refer the members to the committee hearings of November 18, 2010. Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner, appeared and gave a statement outlining very succinctly what we were facing.
Ms. Stoddart characterized Bill C-42 as a deceptively simple bill. It is short. It only has two clauses and only does one thing: it amends the Aeronautics Act to allow the operator of an aircraft scheduled to fly over a foreign state to provide certain personal information about passengers on the flight to the foreign state, when required to do so by the laws of that state. That is what it does. It is their right, and if a carrier that is resident of another country is not prepared to respect the rights of the destination country, or a country over whose airspace it travels, it has a choice. It can take another route. We cannot expect one country to dictate what the rules of the game will be in another jurisdiction, another country. That is their sovereign right, and we want to protect our sovereign right as well.
Arguments have been made that it should be reciprocal, that we should get their information too. I am pretty sure that we do in many ways already.
With regard to the specifics, I am looking at the testimony of the Privacy Commissioner and her suggestions, including to:
Ensure that the minimal amount of personal information is disclosed to American authorities.
Here the commissioner noted that the secure flight program, which is another program:
requires only three pieces of information. In particular, Transport Canada should work...to avoid excessive disclosures of personal information.
Of course, that is the role of the Privacy Commission, to protect the disclosure of information that is not essential or necessary for the point, and this is what has happened.
In questioning the Privacy Commissioner, the member for Markham—Unionville asked:
In respect of the minimal amount of information being passed to the U.S. government, are you suggesting that the Canadian government can have regulations to ensure that only the three basic pieces of information—name, date of birth, and gender—can be transferred to the U.S.? Is that what you're suggesting?
The Privacy Commissioner responded:
Yes. I understand that this can be specified under the Aeronautics Act. My understanding is that they would have to specify whether they want Canadian planes to continue to fly over airspace in harmony with what DHS [Department of Homeland Security] is asking for.
I think we have found ourselves in a situation where, if we want to drag out a bill, this is probably a good one with which to do it because it is very short, but it touches on an area that is an important concern, not only to Canadians but also to members of Parliament.
Privacy issues are a big topic, particularly with regard to things that we have studied about Facebook and Google and whatever, including the banking system. The velocity of information in our society is enormous, but we understand that in the United States, with the Department of Homeland Security that operates separately from transport operations, they do have an extraordinary latitude and a mandate to be able to give assurances to American citizens as well.
That is what the United States has done in requesting this accommodation to have this information, but if we are to debate the bill, we had better debate the facts of what information is actually to be transferred. It cannot be acceptable in this place to start saying that hotel addresses will have to be given out and the names of family members. That is not the case. Members really need some focus here.
I understand the fervour for protecting privacy, but we cannot just put it on our sleeves and say we are protecting the privacy of Canadians. We need to understand that we have some obligations.
This is not the only bill involved in our relationship with the United States. We have many arrangements with regard to the United States that work for our mutual benefit. They are not identical in all respects in the way in which they have a special interest, but we have taken a position to work with the United States to ensure public security.
I am sure my time is going to run out shortly, but the other thing that members will find if they look at the testimony of the Privacy Commissioner deals with the retention of the information. That is another area. Indeed, the Privacy Commissioner looked for retention periods of somewhere in the neighbourhood of seven years, mirroring our current practice.
I hope I have helped members to understand this is not that complicated.