A Discouraging Read

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada today released her second annual report, this one focusing on the Privacy Act which addresses privacy protection within the public sector (the first annual report covered PIPEDA, which addresses private sector privacy protection). While the report provides ample evidence that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is engaged on many issues, I find the results rather disappointing.  For example, the Commissioner notes that the Office appeared before Parliamentary committees sixteen times in the 2005 calendar year.  That suggests that the Office is active and that Parliamentarians understand the need for a privacy perspective in the policy process.  Yet, the results aren’t great – advice on the do-not-call list was ignored, while longstanding calls for Privacy Act reform continue to go unheeded.

The report lists some sample complaints that are similarly discouraging.  A complaint over DFAIT unnecessarily collecting address information for an email list was resolved not by having the department make the information requests voluntary, but rather by clarifying that the disclosure was mandatory.  Similarly, a complaint over workplace email surveillance was judged not-well-founded since the goverment policy is to monitor electronic communications of employees.  Indeed, the Commissioner noted that the monitoring department "displayed fairness and transparency by informing its employees of its monitoring practices."  While that is surely better than surreptitious monitoring, why isn’t the Commissioner taking a stand against unnecessary monitoring in the workplace within the public sector?

The report "big" item is presumably the results of a privacy audit of the Canada Border Services Agency.  The annual report indicates that the audit is available on the Commissioner’s site, though I could not find it [update – it is now online].  Regardless, there were apparently many concerns uncovered with 19 recommendations for change.  With the audit completed back in November, this is an issue that should have been prominently placed on the public agenda immediately, not found at page 52 of an annual report released just as Parliamentarians are scheduled to leave Ottawa for the summer.

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