US Trade Representative calls BC privacy law a trade barrier

The United States Trade Representative has identified BC‘s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) as a trade barrier (see page 60-61), but the BC government claims it doesn’t have any records of complaints or communications with the USTR.

We at BC FIPA have obtained internal USTR documents through the American Freedom of Information Act that show major US companies have complained to the USTR about BC’s requirement that government and other public sector data be stored in Canada.

The documents also show a call scheduled between a senior USTR official and the Ministry of Citizens’ Services in February 2012 to discuss the issue.

However, the BC government responded to FOI requests asking for records related to either the complaints or the USTR call by claiming it has no records related to either.

The documents we obtained from the American government also show the USTR’s concern over increasing use by Canada of the National Security Exception in NAFTA to keep American companies from bidding on Canadian government contracts. These included a new electronic communications system for the federal government and “fully integrated software service” for the Canadian Tourism Commission. Both contracts were restricted to Canadian companies and the data was required to be stored in Canada.

In their public explanation of why they had invoked the national security exception, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office indicated they did not want the Chinese company Huawei taking part in the construction of the communications network.

However, the USTR documents quote a senior Canadian trade official as saying the reason was “privacy concerns stemming from the Patriot Act”.

Canadians should not feel smug, however. The European Parliament is going to re-examine whether our privacy laws are adequate to allow data transfer with Europe. This comes as part of the fallout from the revelations by Edward Snowden that our electronic spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) is working hand in glove with the US National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept an enormous amount of communications from all over the planet.