FIPA Pushes to Keep BC Privacy Law out of NAFTA Negotiations

As the NAFTA renegotiations got underway, FIPA was working to make sure this province’s public sector privacy law was not being put on the bargaining table.

Before the negotiations began, the US Trade Representative released an 18 page list of objectives for the negotiations.

The first and most serious is at the top of page 9 of the document, under the heading Digital Trade in Goods and Services and Cross-Border Data Flows.

It reads as follows:

Establish rules to ensure that NAFTA countries do not impose measures that restrict crossborder data flows and do not require the use or installation of local computing facilities.

BC is one of two provinces in Canada that have such a legal requirement (the other is Nova Scotia).

The latest annual report from the USTR claims these laws are “barriers to digital trade”:

British Columbia and Nova Scotia each have laws that mandate that personal information in the custody of a public body must be stored and accessed only in Canada unless one of a few limited exceptions applies. These laws prevent public bodies, such as primary and secondary schools, universities, hospitals, government-owned utilities, and public agencies, from using U.S. services when there is a possibility that personal information would be stored in or accessed from the United States.

FIPA undertook a major campaign to make sure decision makers in Ottawa and Victoria were aware of the danger to our privacy rights, and  would not unknowlingly undermine them.

We wrote a piece for Policy Options magazine, and provided submissions to consultations on NAFTA by both the federal and BC governments. Most recently, we added our views to the Commons Committee on International Trade which is hearing from stakeholders about the NAFTA negotiations.

It is vital that legislation currently on the books that protects our privacy by means of a domestic data storage requirement is not undermined by whatever the outcome of the NAFTA negotiations may be, and that all Canadian governments retain their ability to bring in such legislation in future.

FIPA sent a questionnaire to party leaders during the recent provincial election and they stated unequivocally that they support FIPPA’s domestic data provisions, and would use whatever measures were available to protect them.

Canadians are concerned about their personal information being shared in any way shape or form with an increasingly erratic United States. Some American companies have already started offering a Canadian data storage option in response to market demand, and governments should continue to have the freedom to protect their citizens’ information and privacy rights as they see fit, including by requiring domestic data storage.

It should be pointed out that the law protecting our privacy rights is a quasi-constitutional statute. Our rights should not be bargained away as part of negotiations regarding trade in goods and services.