The Right to Data Portability

This is the second in our series on the privacy promises we can expect from a Liberal minority government.

From Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s ‘Digital Charter: Trust in a digital world’, and the Liberal Party of Canada’s election 2019 platform document, ‘Forward: A real plan for the middle class’ (40).

In Canada’s Digital Charter, data portability fits within the fourth principle:

‘Transparency, Portability and Interoperability: Canadians will have clear and manageable access to their personal data and should be free to share or transfer it without undue burden.’

Clear and manageable access

Theoretically, Canadians already have “clear and manageable access” to their personal data.

For federal government institutions, Canadians have a right of access contained within section 12 of the Privacy Act. For private sector businesses, Canadians can submit requests to access personal information under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

In British Columbia, access to personal information held by provincial public bodies is realized through section 5 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). For private businesses within the province, section 23 of the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) gives residents this ability.

In theory, the information rights enshrined within these four Acts already gives Canadians “clear and manageable access to personal data”. What’s new then is the ability to “share or transfer it without undue burden.”

What this means, exactly, is not quite as clear.

Sharing and transferring data without undue burden

In their 2019 election platform, the Liberal Party describes data portability as the ability for people to “take their data from platform to platform” (40).

From this, we might assume that someone would have the right to extract all of their data from a platform like Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat, and transfer it to a new platform that offers a similar service.

Why would someone want to do this? One reason might be that an alternative service provider offers greater privacy protections, which in turn would create greater competition among monopolistic platforms.

This also gives Canadians the opportunity to make meaningful choices about how they share their personal information with platforms.

International models

In the European Union, Article 20 of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) gives residents a right to data portability. This right allows data subjects to receive personal data about themselves from data controllers and transmit that data to other controllers.

The GDPR also ensures that the data is provided “in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format” and provides the right to have the personal data transmitted directly from one data controller to another.

A major difference between the European Union’s GDPR and Canada’s PIPEDA is that Canada’s private sector privacy legislation frames privacy as data protection and not as a fundamental human right.

What does a humans rights based approach to privacy look like in legislation? Article 4 of the GDPR lists the fundamental rights the Regulation respects, which include:

“[T]he respect for private and family life, home and communications, the protection of personal data, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and information, freedom to conduct a business, the right to an effective remedy and a fair trial, and cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.’

The proposed right to data portability is a significant step towards creating a human rights based approach to privacy in Canada. While it is not as comprehensive as the GDPR, it will give individuals greater autonomy in their ability to control their own personal data.

Transparency, Privacy, and the Federal Election

It is election season, and the leaders of Canada’s political parties are making promises, presenting platforms, and answering questions about plans and policies.

The next Government of Canada will have to take positions on transparency reform, privacy in a digital age, democracy and Big Data, and the regulation of increasingly-intrusive surveillance practices.

We want to make sure that the information and privacy rights are part of the public conversation during the election period, and we want your help!

Send us an email at fipa@fipa.bc.ca and share the information and privacy policy questions that you would like to see answered by the federal political parties.

We will be compiling an Election Questionnaire, just as we did during BC’s last provincial election, and sending it to the major parties.

The election is on the horizon, so we hope to hear from you soon!

New on the Podcast: Information Laundering

As we learned in the first episode of Data Subjects, BC’s Freedom of Information laws were created in order to ensure that public records belong to the public, which is a fundamental principle to our democracy.

Citizens in a democratic nation must have a right of access to information about their government in order to make informed choices. But prior to 1992, we didn’t have these rights in BC. And now, we’re at risk of losing them again due to something called information laundering.

This episode is about a loophole in BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that allows public bodies to create subsidiary companies that are not subject to BC’s Freedom of Information laws.

First, we learn about how BC Ferries and BC Hydro used subsidiary companies with disastrous consequences in the 1990s during the ‘Fast Ferries’ and ‘Hydrogate’ scandals. Then, we hear from Larry Kuehn, of the BC Teachers’ Federation, and find out how BC school boards have misused subsidiary companies.

And finally, we hear from Stanley Tromp, independent journalist, and learn about his experience requesting information about one of UBC’s subsidiary companies, the UBC Properties Trust, and its consequences for health and safety on campus.

If you’d like to see information laundering as a thing of the past, please sign our petition and encourage the BC government to keep their campaign promise of protecting information and privacy rights in BC.

Democratic implications of privacy issues take centre stage at ‘Privacy in Peril’

By Carlo Javier

It was fitting to end Data Privacy Day on Jan. 28 with a talk called Privacy in Peril.

Organized by the Vancouver Public Library and the SFU Library, the event saw Mike Larsen of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) and Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) cast a light on modern issues surrounding data, surveillance, and privacy.

Larsen opened the discussions with a statement that might best capture the complicated nature of privacy amidst our increasingly digital and interconnected world: “Privacy is a collective good. Thinking about the perils that privacy faces right now requires us to think about privacy as a democratic good.” The principle is especially critical of the framework often used to analyze privacy – one that isolates issues as strictly individual-based cases (think consent forms, website cookie policy notifications). Larsen’s suggestion is to look at privacy with a holistic perspective and to see how privacy rights have implications not only to an individual, but to many other agents that may either be directly or indirectly involved.

He then put forward two concepts he deemed to be main pillars of the current state of privacy: Surveillance Capitalism as discussed in Shoshana Zuboff’s new book and Bernard E. Harcourt’s study on the Expository Society.


“Privacy is a collective good. Thinking about the perils that privacy faces right now requires us to think about privacy as a democratic good.”

– Mike Larsen

The two ideas were both entirely unsurprising, yet undeniably unsettling. While the monetization of data has become fairly well-known (and seemingly accepted), Larsen disputed the belief that the collection of our digital footprint is dedicated solely to economic means like marketing and advertising. I heard noticeable gasps from around the audience when he delved into the other side of surveillance, the one we don’t talk about enough: prediction of behaviour, political sentiment, and voting practices – and information such as these can open the possibility for the steering and manipulation of the public.

Micheal Vonn (left) of the BCCLA and Mike Larsen (right) of BC FIPA discusses the complicated state of privacy amidst an increasingly digital and interconnected society.

Although the discussion on the Expository Society veered towards a more academic vernacular, the subject in its most basic nutshell did hit close to home. It is essentially a critique on how the digital age and the dawn of social media have changed our habits, how we have become more incentivized and inclined to share personal information in public spaces, which in turn builds copious amounts of vulnerable data.

The concern about the safety of our data was a sentiment that Vonn echoed in her discussion, stating that we create more data than most places, but unfortunately, “we can’t really protect it.” Vonn also delved into sovereignty and transparency, citing the lack of ability to hold government bodies accountable, relative to the amount of access government has to our personal information. As for tips and solutions, Vonn proposed a tactic she admittedly described as unpopular – go analog. A self-confessed Luddite, Vonn spoke of the security measures created by simply leaving devices like laptops (and yes, even phones) at home when travelling or crossing the US-Canada border.

Although we only celebrate Data Privacy Day once a year, the discussion it generates allow for issues surrounding data, surveillance, and privacy to permeate our general discourse. And while the meaningful action that we seek can come so few and far between, these discussions do represent a small victory. At the end of the day, we want as many people talking and caring about these issues. After all, privacy is a collective good.

Eager to get involved in the fight for our rights? Click here to join the cause.

Carlo Javier is the community awareness and outreach coordinator at BC FIPA. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from Capilano University.