New law a big leap for privacy rights in BC, but government must fund it adequately

Vancouver – FIPA, BC’s leading advocacy group for freedom of information and privacy rights, is declaring legislation introduced this week by the BC Liberals “an enormous leap for privacy rights.” But the group is also warning that the law will be a failure unless the government gives BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner adequate resources to enforce it.

The Personal Information Protection Act will require every private-sector organization in BC to institute a privacy code regulating the way they collect, use and disclose the personal information of clients, customers and employees.

“The new act is a breakthrough for privacy rights at a time when personal privacy faces unprecedented threats,” stated Gerry Fahey, president of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA). “People are concerned about the explosion in the amount of information about them that is being collected and scrutinized in the private sector, and they are concerned that this information has passed totally out of their control.”

“This act goes a long way in giving citizens some control over their information and making organizations responsible and accountable for their practices, but it will only be enforceable and effective if the government devotes the necessary resources to it.”

“The act mandates a strong oversight and enforcement role for the Commissioner, but the budget of the Commissioner’s office has just been slashed by 35 percent,” continued Fahey. “The office has lost much of its staff and is already overwhelmed just with enforcing the current freedom of information act.

“The government must show it is serious about FOI and privacy rights by giving the office the resources it requires to fulfill both its current mandate and this new responsibility.”

The legislation gives the public new privacy rights, including the right to consent to how their personal information is collected, used and disclosed; to see the information organizations collect about them; to demand that false information be corrected; and to make complaints to BC’s Information and Privacy commissioner if the law is broken.

FIPA was part of a government consultation process over the new act that lasted over six months. “We were pleased at how far the bill progressed. We’re not saying that the act is perfect, but we give it a high “B” grade,” stated Fahey.

[download the Letter to the Hon. Sandy Santori, Minister of Government Services]

BC FIPA’s comments on Bill 38, the Personal Information Protection Act, submitted to the Minister of Management Services – 15 May 2003

Bill 38 is a very good piece of privacy legislation and a breakthrough for privacy rights at the provincial level. BC has shown strong leadership among the provinces in moving forward with a private-sector privacy bill that has real teeth. For this, great credit is due to yourself and also to Chris Norman and Sharon Plater, the officials at the Corporate Privacy and Information Access Branch who have conducted the public consultation process and the development of the legislation.

However, Bill 38 is not flawless. In our news release of May 2, 2003, BC FIPA’s president stated, “We are pleased at how far the bill progressed [during the consultation process]. We’re not saying that the act is perfect, but we give it a high “B” grade.”

FIPA has stated clearly to the government, the media and the public that we support Bill 38 because its merits greatly outweigh its flaws. In endorsing the Bill, we recognize how far the government moved to improve and strengthen it during the consultation process. Nevertheless, we must state that we are in substantial agreement with most of the points the Privacy Commissioner has raised. We urge the government to consider the substance of the Privacy Commissioner’s comments seriously, and if at all possible, make improvements to the Bill in the areas in which he has expressed concern.

Read BC FIPA’s complete comments to the Minister (doc).

BC FIPA Comments on Proposal for Nat’l ID Card

BC FIPA presented its comments before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Public Safety on the proposal to create a national identity card.

[A] national ID card would be:

  • hugely expensive;
  • just as subject to fraud, privacy abuses, and security breaches as current systems of identification; and
  • not likely to be more effective in preventing crime than better managed and more secure systems for birth certificates, Social Insurance Numbers, passports, and driver’s licenses.

Canadians have not had an open and thorough debate about the possibility of creating a national identity card, and we believe it would be a serious mistake to proceed in the heat of the moment without such a debate — or more accurately, in the current atmosphere of fear, anger and hysteria which has so unbalanced our neighbour to the south.

Read the full text of the comments (pdf).


Darrell Evans of BC FIPA gave a speech on Lawful Access to the Frontiers of Privacy and Security conference in Victoria today. Darrell highlighted some of the concerns that BC FIPA has with the direction that the Federal government is taking in the context of Lawful Access.

FIPA’s view in a nutshell is that we have no objection if the State has the same ability to intercept and monitor email and wireless communication that it currently has to intercept and monitor letter mail and conventional telephone communication. But the Consultation Document goes far beyond this to propose much greater license to intercept and monitor, and with a lower standard of judicial supervision.

We are opposed to the proposals because, in our opinion, they unjustifiably intrude upon the privacy rights of Canadian citizens.

Read the whole speech.