While it was overshadowed by the headlines over potential copyright reform, Peter Van Loan, the government’s House leader, disclosed last week that the government is planning to send Bill S-4, the Digital Privacy Act, to the Industry Committee for review prior to second reading. The bill, which has proven controversial due to a provision that expands the possibility of voluntary disclosure of subscriber information and relatively weak security breach disclosure rules, will be open to more significant reforms that previously thought possible (my remarks before the Senate committee can be found here). Under Parliamentary rules, referring a bill before second reading allows the committee to alter the scope of the bill.
As I discussed earlier this year, there appeared to be a deal at the Senate that would have amended the voluntary disclosure provision. However, a voting snafu by Liberal Senators left the provision intact. With the bill headed to committee before second reading, changes seem likely. During the abbreviated Senate hearings, there were calls for changes to the voluntary disclosure rules, increased Privacy Commissioner powers, and strengthened data breach rules.
That said, industry groups have also been lobbying for changes, including limitations to reforms to consent and opposition to tough measures on security breach rules. Indeed, it is unclear whether the government plans to use the committee process to strengthen or weaken its own privacy bill, but the procedural maneuver is sure to lead to increased lobbying and requests to appear before the Industry committee once hearings on S-4 begin. Moreover, it is possible the changes are linked to forthcoming anti-terrorism legislation. For Canadians concerned about the state of private sector privacy law, now is the time to speak out to ensure that the bill toughens privacy enforcement, is not used to perversely increase surveillance, and removes provisions that could undermine privacy protections.