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Privacy watchdog calls for updated laws regarding technology amid pandemic

The commissioner says existing legislative framework for privacy is outdated

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada says that new laws are urgently needed in order to use technology for the public interest while maintaining privacy.

Commissioner Daniel Therrien has penned a letter to government officials outlining that although technology has brought significant benefits to Canadians amid the pandemic, it has created important risks to privacy.

“The current pandemic has greatly accelerated what was already a disruptive digital revolution. Examples include the much greater use of virtual medicine and e-learning. These technologies offer real benefits but also create very significant risks to privacy and other rights,” the letter states.

It outlines that Canadian privacy laws need to be updated to more appropriately protect Canadians. The letter calls for rights-based privacy laws, the inclusion of a necessity and proportionality standard, independent oversight and more.

Commissioner Therrien states that while proper design choices have been made in the case of the COVID Alert app, the existing legislative framework for privacy is outdated and doesn’t sufficiently deal with the digital environment to ensure the appropriate regulation of new technologies.

The letter outlines that the commissioner’s office’s review of the app found that it has strong safeguards in place and that the watchdog was satisfied with the strong measures that were adopted to ensure that the identity of users is protected. However, the commissioner states that his review review of the app found an urgent need for privacy laws to be modernized.

“How our government can claim that an application described worldwide as extremely privacy sensitive and the subject of reasoned concern for the future of democratic values as not being subject to its privacy laws is of significant concern,” the letter reads.

For instance, the commissioner outlines that in terms of the COVID Alert app, it’s unclear whether the law would currently prohibit organizations from seeking information contained in the app, including whether the user has received an exposure notification.

“We need laws that support the development and use of technologies in the public interest, as well as protect our fundamental rights,” the letter reads.

Further, the commissioner notes that over the past few years, several countries around the world have been updating their privacy laws and that it’s time Canada does the same.

The letter concludes by stating that Canada requires updated privacy laws that provide effective enforcement and recourse. This reformulation of privacy laws would then help restore trust in Canadian democracy and the economy.

Source: Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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