What is an Ideal Privacy Law?

There are a number of laws in Canada that relate to privacy rights and various organizations are responsible for overseeing that there is compliance with said laws. The Privacy Act, covers personal information-handling practices of federal government departments and agencies while the Personal Information Protecting and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) sets ground rules for how private sector organizations may collect, use or disclose information in the course of various commercial activities.

As discussed in class, we face various forms of defense against loss of private information. An example of this comes from simply logging into our MyKwantlen account on the internet. Our grades and such are protected with our very own unique password and student number that only we should know. When checking the mail, we have strayed away from having mailboxes outside our house to having a united mailbox down the street that requires a unique key that will open our box and no one else’s. When we check out email, open our phones, log onto our computers, we are always typing in various passcodes and numbers to ensure that only we can access the information in said equipment.

Privacy law in Canada has evolved into becoming what it is today. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1982 highlighted that everyone had the right to life, liberty, and security as well as the right to be free of unreasonable search or seizure. Although this did not directly mention privacy, it is clear that the Canadian government did not want the private matters of Canadians to be infringed upon by those with power. In the early 2000’s various privacy restrictions were created through legislation that prevented the use and disclosure of information by provincial and territorial governments and companies in the private sector.

The Access to Information Act and Freedom of Information Act provided citizens with the right to access information under the control of governmental institutions and made said institutions more accountable to the public and also protected individual privacy by giving the public right of access to records.

An ideal privacy law is one which protects information while making it accessible only to those who are given permission to access it. As with the Access to Information Act and the Freedom of Information Act, we are given the right to information that we are entitled to view. With an ideal privacy law, only those who the information belongs to should be able to denote who accesses the information. In particular cases, the government should be able to have access to information provided it is needed in order to maintain safety in the community. For example, if an act of terror is committed, the government should have access to the information of the offenders in order to help maintain a just society. An ideal privacy law has no limits and no fine print.

As discussed in the Star article, the national Canadian criminal database includes “information on charges, warrants, persons of interest, stolen property, vehicles, criminal records as well as critical public and officer safety information.” Also included are character indicators which police fill out when they feel an individual is capable of committing a violent act. The information collected allows police officers to be aware of individuals that me be a risk to themselves as well as others and assists the police in determining what type of response is needed relative to the individual.

As discussed in the Star article, although this information is stored and kept private, “disclosing it to prospective employers, governments or volunteer organizations undermines the lives of law-abiding citizens.” The information is taken as a precautionary measure; however, the individual whom the information belongs to is never told that this information is kept about them. These precautionary measures are what void Canada’s privacy laws. If those with the power and authority to do so can take and contain our confidential information, how is it fair to say that we are being given a fair right to life, liberty, and security? An ideal privacy would not only apply to the citizens of Canada but the government and authoritative figures of Canada as well. This simple rule is what prevents privacy laws today from being ideal. There is always a special clause that allows one party special rights over another; however, until this clause is removed, there may not be such thing as an IDEAL law.

Cribb, R., Rankin, J., & Bailey, A. (n.d.). 420,000 in police database never convicted: Analysis. The Toronto     Star. Retrieved November 27, 2014, from The Toronto Star:     http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/05/24/420000_in_police_database_never_convict    ed_analysis.html
Haggerty, K. D., & Ericson, R. V. (2006). The New Politics of Surveillance and Visibility. Toronto: University     of Toronto Press.
Larsen, M. (2014, November 25). Law, Society, and Privacy in an Era of Mass Surveillance. Crim 3305 Law     and Society . Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Richards, N. M. (2013). The Dangers of Surveillance. Harvard Law Review , 26 (934), 934-965.

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1 Comment

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One response to “What is an Ideal Privacy Law?

  1. I don’t think that many people would disagree with your position that “In particular cases, the government should be able to have access to information provided it is needed in order to maintain safety in the community.”. It is when we move from this general principle to the question of specific privacy laws that things become challenging. Who is empowered to decide whether and to what extent a given situation should be considered a ‘particular case’? Recall Agamben’s discussion of the relationship between sovereign power and the capacity to decide which cases are exceptional.

    Your observation that precautionary measures represent a challenge from a privacy perspective is important, and it reflects Ericson’s (2007) discussion of the implications of counter-law.