Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in my place today to express support for Bill S-4, the digital privacy act, which was first introduced in April of last year. The digital privacy act would make important changes to Canada's private sector privacy law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA, to better protect the privacy of Canadians.
I would like to spend my time highlighting the measures in Bill S-4 that are designed to better safeguard the privacy of minors and protect vulnerable members of our society. In our modern digital economy, it is absolutely critical that we make sure our children have safe and secure access to online resources.
Being digitally literate is no longer merely nice to have; it is now a necessary prerequisite for young Canadians, whether to be successful in school or to find their first job. In fact, a recent survey revealed that in 2013, 99% of Canadian students were able to access the Internet outside of school.
While there are many benefits to being digitally connected, going online can also expose our children to risks. As we have unfortunately seen, young people can become targets of online intimidation and abuse. Our government has acted to protect our children from cyberbullying and other similar threats through Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. This bill, which came into force on March 9, 2015, ensures that all Canadians can freely access the Internet without fear of victimization.
Bill C-13 protects children and adolescents from online predators and exploitation. Provisions of the bill permit and empower the courts to penalize those who harass, intimidate, exploit, or threaten others online or through telecommunication devices. In other words, Bill C-13 serves to counter cyberbullying in Canada.
The Government of Canada takes cyberbullying very seriously and supports a no-tolerance framework. In January 2014, our government launched the anti-cyberbullying national awareness campaign called Stop Hating Online, which raises awareness of the impact of cyberbullying and how this behaviour amounts to criminal activity.
We have also taken further steps to protect children from online predators. Our government has invested $14.2 million a year through the national strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. In addition to Bill C-13, our government has implemented other concrete measures to keep young Canadians safe online and in their communities. Such measures include increasing the maximum penalties for luring a child online, strengthening the sentencing and monitoring of dangerous offenders, and strengthening the sex offender registry, to name only a few. All of these initiatives align with our government's commitment to stand up and protect Canadians.
Bill C-13 was introduced to provide a safe and secure environment for Canadians online, and the digital privacy act seeks to accomplish this as well. In this rapidly growing digital world, we must be aware that going online can expose vulnerable Canadians to privacy risks. For example, minors can be subject to aggressive marketing tactics or can have their personal data collected and shared without them truly understanding what is being done and the potential long-term privacy consequences.
To address this concern, the digital privacy act includes an amendment to clarify requirements for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information. Specifically, the bill clarifies that when a company is seeking permission to collect, use, or disclose personal information from a group of individuals, such as children, it must take the necessary steps to ensure that, as a group, these individuals are able to understand what would happen to their personal information. In practice, this means that the organization's request for information must be presented in a clear and concise manner and must be appropriate for and easily understood by the target audience. This includes making sure the wording and language used in the request are age-appropriate.
Let me take a minute to give an example explaining to the members of the House how this would work. Let us say that an online service designed for children wishes to gather information about who visits their site. In order to seek consent, the company would be required to design and present its request to collect, use, and disclose information using language that a child could reasonably be expected to understand. If a child could not be expected to understand what the website seeks to do with their information, the child's consent would not be valid. As a result, consent from a parent would need to be sought.
The Privacy Commissioner expressed his strong support for this amendment when appearing before the standing committee. This is what the Privacy Commissioner said:
I think with the clarification that Bill S-4 provides, it is a useful clarification of what consent is, and it has the potential of improving the situation for the issue of consent sought from children....
There are additional amendments in Bill S-4 that are also designed to better protect the interests of other vulnerable individuals. I would like to bring to the attention of hon. members two particular amendments that would allow information to be more easily shared in emergency situations.
The first of these amendments would allow organizations to share personal information in order to contact a family member of an injured, ill, or deceased individual. The importance of this amendment was well summarized by the representative of the Canadian Pharmacists Association in her appearance before the standing committee when she said:
Pharmacists, as well as any health care provider, may find themselves in the difficult situation of having to deal with patients who may be severely ill, unconscious, or incapacitated for any number of reasons. In such circumstances it may be imperative for the pharmacist or other health professional to immediately contact family members or next of kin to inform them of the patient's condition, or to seek valuable information on the patients' medical history. But seeking permission or consent to contact those individuals in advance may simply not be reasonable nor in some cases possible. This clause would provide pharmacists and other health care providers with the comfort and knowledge that in the case of a severe health emergency they will not be in contravention of PIPEDA for acting in the best interests of their patients by contacting next of kin or authorized representatives.
The second of these amendments would allow information to be shared in situations such as accidents or disasters, in order to assist in the identification of injured, ill, or deceased individuals. For example, this would allow dentists to provide an individual's dental records to authorities in order to identify victims of a natural disaster.
These two amendments are clearly in the public's interest and are long overdue.
The government is committed to protecting the privacy of Canadians. The digital privacy act would take necessary actions to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, including children.