Joint letter on data collection and privacy in the COVID-19 era.

BC FIPA, along with other civil society groups, has signed on to Open Media’s joint letter calling for measures to be put in place to ensure Canadians’ right to privacy is protected, and not undermined after the crisis is over.

Specifically, we are asking for a clear message from the provincial and federal governments stating that they will not turn to digital tracking and location data collection to address COVID-19 concerns.

With that in mind, we are looking to pre-empt potential bad policies by putting forward seven key principles that should be in place to preserve our privacy and our democracy:

  1. Prioritize approaches to help people stay at home which do not involve surveillance.
  2. Due process for adopting any new powers.
  3. Consent must be favoured.
  4. Put strict limits on data collection and retention.
  5. Put strict limits on use and disclosure.
  6. There must be oversight, transparency and accountability.
  7. Any surveillance efforts related to COVID-19 must not fall under the domain of security, law enforcement or intelligence agencies.

More information on these principles can be found here.

Submission to Consultation on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Proposals for ensuring appropriate regulation of artificial intelligence

View full submission here.

The context in which we understand privacy is shifting in the current landscape of big data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. What was generally considered a broad topic with varying normative understandings is now at the forefront of debates and policy work as the varied stakeholders attempt to narrow its scope in the Canadian context. Simultaneously, we are seeing an increasing and more varied quantity of data being given to and collected by both private and public bodies in the name of technological innovation – most of which are fueled by data, thereby making privacy concerns more acute.

Resulting from this dichotomous relationship is a narrative where privacy is pitted against innovation; where privacy protection is seen as a check on innovation. This is a dangerous discursive framing of the issue because it implies that unless individuals want to remove themselves for this new form of a social contract, they must give up control over their personal information. AI represents a paradigm shift in technology: rather than an incremental expansion of existing methods and practices, we are seeing a revolution of Big Data, which has already had widespread and – in many cases – deleterious implication for privacy rights. The intersection of machine learning and Big Data has the potential to fundamentally alter what it means to have a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy.” The implications of AI transcend any meaningful distinctions between public and private sector (including privacy laws). Crucially, history has shown us that when new privacy-impacting technologies are adopted ahead of corresponding changes in law and regulations governing privacy, it can be difficult to ‘roll back’ established practice and undo erosions to privacy rights. Technology moves quickly from being novel and extraordinary to routine and normalized. This calls for a precautionary approach – one that involves restrictions on the adoption and use of privacy-impacting AI until such time that robust and updated legal and regulatory frameworks are in place.

We urge the policy makers to keep PIPEDA (and other legislation) technology-neutral. Privacy remains a broad concept that is not limited to technological contexts and that can also transcend any particular technology. Rather than writing a new legislation targeted specifically at AI, we maintain that existing privacy laws need to be strengthened significantly to expand their scope to be able to govern AI within the existing legal framework.

We are pleased to see that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) is moving towards adopting a human-rights based approach to privacy rights. This framing of privacy no longer sees the interplay between privacy and innovation as zero-sum; rather, it emphasizes the foundational role of trust [through privacy] to support the digital economy. Building on this notion, we emphasize the importance of keeping meaningful consent and transparency central to data privacy and AI governance.

Lastly, we fully support the numerous calls for expanding the Information and Privacy Commissioners’ powers to support a robust enforcement regime where they can utilize ordermaking powers and administrative monetary penalties to enforce compliance. We have been calling for these changes for over a decade and believe that given the move towards more automation and increasing sophistication of data processing methods, this is a requirement now more than ever.

Civil society groups kick-off Right to Know Week by calling for immediate action to reform and update FIPPA

Earlier today we sent a joint letter to Premier John Horgan and Minister Jinny Sims supporting Freedom of Information and privacy reform.

The text of the letter, signed by a number of well-known groups and individuals, is set out below. See here for the PDF copy.

September 24, 2018

The Honourable John Horgan
Premier of British Columbia
Victoria, BC

The Honourable Jinny Sims
Minister of Citizens’ Services
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2

By Email:;

Dear Premier Horgan and Minister Sims:

Re: Reform of Freedom of Information and Privacy Legislation

This year, Right to Know Week will be celebrated the week of 24-30 September. Right to Know Week provides organizations, groups, and people across Canada an opportunity to come together to raise awareness of the importance of the right of access to government information, and to call for action with a view to strengthening and protecting this fundamental right.

We are marking 2018’s Right to Know Week by writing to you regarding the need for immediate action to reform and update BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

The FIPPA is outdated, and meaningful and substantive reforms are long overdue. This has been the conclusion of various studies and reports, including the 2016 Report of the Special Legislative Committee tasked with reviewing the Act. It is also our conclusion as active users and observers of BC’s Freedom of Information system. Necessary changes include:

  • Creating a real legislative ‘duty to document’ under FIPPA, to end the practice of ‘oral government’ and ensure that government officials are legally required to keep accurate, complete records of what they do on the job;
  • Tightening certain exceptions to disclosure, particularly sections 12 (cabinet records) and 13 (policy advice), including taking steps to end the abuse of these provisions;
  • Bringing all subsidiaries of educational and other public bodies within the scope of the FIPPA; and
  • Creating penalties, under the FIPPA, for government officials who interfere with freedom of information rights.

Your government has expressed a commitment to improve BC’s freedom of information system, and we know that you have taken steps to consult with the public and the FOI community (through the Spring 2018 public engagement on FOI and the ongoing Freedom of Information Rules Project conducted by the Ministry of Citizens’ Services). However, we have yet to see the introduction of legislation to reform the FIPPA.

In our experience, governments of all types and at all levels frequently speak about the importance of transparency, accountability, and the right to know, and opposition political parties often call for FOI reform. However, these claims rarely translate into meaningful actions to improve the legislation that supports our right to know.

There is an opportunity for your government to show true leadership in this area by bringing forward legislation to reform the FIPPA. We note that 84% of respondents in a 2018 Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of BC FIPA believe that FOI reforms should be put into law before the next provincial election. There is both a pressing need for change and a clear public mandate for it. We hope that you will mark this Right to Know Week by announcing – and committing to – a timetable for the introduction of a FIPPA reform bill.

We are available to work with your government to help bring about positive changes to protect the information rights of all British Columbians and build a stronger democracy.

Yours Truly,





Sara Neuert
Executive Director, BC FIPA






Mike Larsen
President, BC FIPA


Micheal Vonn, Policy Director, BC Civil Liberties Association
Darrell Evans, Executive Director (volunteer), Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies Society
Kris Constable, President, Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies Society
Tamir Israel, Staff Lawyer, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic
Randy Christensen, Staff Lawyer, EcoJustice
John Hinds, President and Chief Executive Officer, News Media Canada
Beth Clarke, Development and Program Director, Wilderness Committee
Vincent Gogolek, FOI and Privacy Expert,
Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy
Stanley Tromp, Journalist
Robyn Laba, Senior Researcher, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Laura Tribe, Executive Director, OpenMedia

FIPA’s Submission on FIPPA reform

FIPA’s submission on FIPPA reform

FIPA has been busy the past few months pushing for Freedom of Information and privacy reform. During this time, we ramped up pressure on the new government with our Ipsos poll and a joint letter sent to Premier John Horgan pushing for information rights reform.

In response, the BC Ministry of Citizens’ Services has launched a public consultation on freedom of information and privacy rights in BC. Building upon our 2015 FIPPA submission, you can read our updated submission here.

Submission deadline is April 9, 2018 at 4PM. You can have your say either through online discussion, or by written submission. More information on ways to participate here:

The Ministry of Citizens’ Services has added a phone number and email for greater accessibility: 250-208-3591 or