Mr. Speaker, today it is my absolute pleasure to express my support for Bill S-4, the digital privacy act. When the industry minister released Digital Canada 150, our government's plan to guide Canada's digital future, he set out clear goals to put our country at the forefront of the digital economy.
One of the five pillars of this ambitious plan is “protecting Canadians”. In order to realize the full benefits of the digital plan and the digital world, Canadians must have confidence that their online activities are secure and that their online privacy is protected through strong measures like the digital privacy act.
This government is taking concrete action to make sure that Canadians and their families are protected from online threats. Protecting Canadians online is particularly important when we consider the most vulnerable segments of our society. Indeed, as the Internet becomes present in virtually every aspect of our economy, and our children's homework, it is also becoming an essential element in our children's lives.
A recently released survey conducted last year by MediaSmarts, a charitable organization dedicated to digital and media literacy, revealed that in 2013, 99% of Canadian students were able to access the Internet outside of their school. When online, students play games, download music, television shows and movies, and socialize with their friends and family.
The survey reveals that over 30% of students in grades 4 to 6 have Facebook accounts, and that by grade 11, my daughter's year, 95% of students have an account. However, with this increased online presence comes increased risk. As we have seen, young people can unfortunately become targets of online intimidation and abuse. This government has acted to protect our children from cyberbullying and other similar threats.
In addition to responding to the very real and harmful threats related to cyberbullying, this government is also acting to protect the privacy of minors and other vulnerable individuals through proposed amendments to the digital privacy act.
In our modern digital economy, our children must be able to go online in a safe and secure way if they are to develop the skills they will need later to find jobs in the digital marketplace. The online world has the potential to provide considerable benefits for our children's education and development, and it can greatly enrich their social lives.
At the same time, going online can expose children to privacy risks. For example, minors can be subject to aggressive behavioural marketing tactics, or they could have their personal data collected and shared without truly understanding what is being done. There is the potential for long-term privacy consequences.
The digital privacy act includes an amendment to Canada's private sector privacy law to strengthen the requirements around the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information, which will increase the level of protection for vulnerable Canadians such as children. Specifically, the digital privacy act clarifies that when a company is seeking permission to collect, use, or disclose personal information from a specific group of individuals such as children, then the company must make sure that an average person, such as a child in that group, would be able to understand what is going to happen with the information.
An example is the best way to illustrate how the proposed amendment will work. Imagine, for example, an educational website that is designed primarily for elementary school children. Under the proposed amendment, any request by that website to collect, use, or disclose personal information would need to be worded in such a way that it is understandable by the average elementary school student. This not only includes making sure that the wording and language used in the request is age appropriate, but that the request itself is appropriate as well. If it is not reasonable to expect that the average elementary-aged child would understand the purpose and consequences of them clicking “okay”, then under the digital privacy act the company would not have valid consent.
Minors under the age of majority are more vulnerable and require additional protections. At the same time, privacy protection for children must reflect their level of maturity and psychological development. It must respect that.
That is why our government has ensured that the flexibility inherent to the act which allows the application of contextual privacy protections is reflected in our proposed amendment. The ability of teenagers to understand what is being done with personal information and their ability to make decisions about what they will and will not agree to is completely different from what elementary school children are capable of.
As they age, minors become more able to make sound decisions about themselves and what is being done with their personal information. Therefore, a website directed, for example, to grade 12 students, should not explain what it intends to do with information and seek consent in the same way that an educational website for elementary school students would. The process is similar; the means are different.
The proposed amendment adjusts for this difference by focusing on what is reasonable to expect of the group of individuals being targeted by the company's product or service.
The former interim privacy commissioner strongly supported this proposed amendment when speaking to the Senate committee that was studying the bill last spring. This is what the Office of the Privacy Commissioner said in its written submission to that committee:
We think this is an important and valuable amendment that will clarify PIPEDA’s consent requirements. By requiring organizations to make a greater effort to explain why they are collecting personal information and how it will be used, this proposed amendment should help make consent more meaningful for all individuals, particularly for young people for whom the digital world is an integral part of their daily lives.
As an added protection, PIPEDA has always recognized that parents or other authorized representatives have the right to provide consent on behalf of an individual, including children. Indeed, the responsibility and commitment to protect the privacy of children and other vulnerable Canadians is absolutely a shared one. Parents, governments, educators, as well as charities in the private sector, all have a central role to play in protecting the online privacy of our children.
The government firmly believes that digital literacy and skills are at the core of what is needed for individuals to succeed in today's online economy. Understanding by parents, educators, and children of the relevance and importance of protecting online privacy is a central component of digital literacy.
The government supports the role that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is playing in educating Canada's youth about the importance of online privacy and helping them to not only understand the impact that online services and applications can have on their privacy but also helping them make wise, smart decisions.
For example, the office of the commissioner created a graphic novel called Social Smarts: Privacy, the Internet and You. It was designed to help young Canadians better understand online privacy issues. They have also created tools to support parents and educators as they seek to protect children's online privacy. A discussion guide and privacy activity sheets have been developed to help them work with children to explore and understand privacy risks associated with social networking, mobile devices, texting, and online gaming.
The government is committed to protecting the privacy of Canadians. The digital privacy act takes concrete action to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, and that includes our children. At the same time, this legislation respects the growth of our children as they approach adulthood. It is measured and graduated because of that.
I hope all hon. members will join me in supporting this very important bill.