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Canada’s privacy commissioner calls for stronger privacy laws and increased authority

Daniel Therrien issues a formal statement as part of Canada's Facebook privacy investigation

OPC Daniel Therrien

The Canadian government is currently conducting a two-week privacy review of Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Now, as the first witness in the investigation, Canada’s privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien has issued a formal statement on the matter. While Therrien said he is legally prohibited from revealing any of the findings in his office’s ongoing investigation, he did comment on the broader state of privacy in Canada.

“Under PIPEDA [the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act], organizations have a legal obligation to be accountable, but Canadians cannot rely exclusively on companies to manage their information responsibly,” Therrien said.

“Transparency and accountability are necessary but they are not sufficient. To be clear, it is not enough to ask companies to live up to their responsibilities. Canadians need stronger privacy laws that will protect them when organizations fail to do so.”

To that point, Therrien called for stronger privacy laws and the ability for his office “to go into an organization to independently confirm that the principles in our privacy laws are being respected — without necessarily suspecting a violation of the law.” Therrien also said his office should be given the “power to make orders and issue financial penalties.”

Outside of corporations, Therrien said privacy law must also apply to political parties. Therrien noted that while such legislation exists in the United Kingdom, much of the European Union and New Zealand, there is currently no such federal law in Canada.

“So while I am currently investigating commercial organizations such as Facebook and Aggregate IQ, I am unable to investigate how political parties use the personal information they may receive from corporate actors,” said Therrien. “This is an important gap. Some independent authority needs to have the ability to review the practices of political parties and to assess whether privacy rights are being truly respected by all relevant players.”

The next part of the investigation will take place on Thursday, April 19th and is set to feature testimonies from Facebook Canada’s head of public policy Kevin Chan and Facebook’s California-based deputy-chief privacy officer Robert Sherman.

As the two-week review continues, government is calling for investigation into companies beyond Facebook, including Google and Amazon, although Members of Parliament say they are focused on the social network for the time being.

Source: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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