The Canadian government released its COVID Alert, its COVID-19 exposure notification app, earlier this month starting first with a roll-out in Ontario. I’ve written how I’ve made the decision to install it, noting that the voluntary app does not collect personal information nor provide the government (or anyone else) with location information. The app underwent two privacy reviews, engaging both the federal privacy commissioner and the Ontario information and privacy commissioner.
Patricia Kosseim, the newly appointed Ontario privacy commissioner, had only been on the job for a few hours before she was dealing with the app that was bound to attract public attention. Commissioner Kosseim joins me on the podcast to discuss the app, her review, the interaction between different governments and commissioners, and why she installed the app the day it was released.
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The Schrems II decision, a recent European Court of Justice ruling that declares the Privacy Shield program that facilitates data transfers between the EU and the United States invalid, has major implications for modern commercial data related activities such as cross-border data transfers. The decision will reverberate in countries around the world, including Canada. For example, Canadian privacy law was found many years ago to meet the EU’s adequacy standard, but the Schrems II may call that into question.
Colin Bennett is a political science professor at the University of Victoria and one of Canada’s leading privacy experts. He has written multiple books on privacy and surveillance and focuses on the development and implementation of privacy protection policies at the domestic and international levels. He joins the podcast to discuss the Schrems II decision and what it means for global data transfers and the future of Canada’s privacy law framework.
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As the broad availability of genetic testing has mushroomed over the past two decades, privacy and potential discrimination concerns associated with testing results has increased. Until recently, Canada lagged behind other countries in this regard with no specific national legislation. That changed in 2017 with the enactment of the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act. The Act was quickly challenged on constitutional grounds, but earlier this month a divided Supreme Court of Canada upheld its validity.
The law underwent a remarkable parliamentary journey featuring opposition from successive governments, lobbying against the bill by the insurance industry, passage in the House of Commons despite objections from then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and a court challenge in which the government supported the effort to declare the law invalid. Senator James Cowan, who was the lead proponent of the legislation, joins me on the podcast to discuss what prompted him to take on the issue and the unlikely path of Canada’s genetic non-discrimination law.
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From the very outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, public health officials have identified the potential of contact tracing applications to both assist in conventional contact tracing activities and to warn individuals that they may have been in close proximity to someone who tested positive for the virus. The apps have unsurprisingly proven controversial, with some doubting their effectiveness and others concerned about the broader privacy and security implications.
The Government of Alberta was first off the mark with its ABTraceTogether app that launched in May 2020. Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton recently completed her review of the application with an extensive investigation into its privacy implications that included an examination of the technical details, how the app functions, the role of third parties, and access to the data by contact tracers and other officials. Commissioner Clayton joins me on the podcast to discuss her report, the positive aspects of the app implementation, and the ongoing concerns that her review uncovered.
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South Africa spent years embroiled in a high profile effort to update its copyright law responding to concerns from creators, the education community, and the visually impaired that the longstanding laws did not serve the national interest and were harming creativity and access to knowledge. Its Parliament ultimately passed progressive reforms in 2019, but the bill languished on the desk of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who faced enormous trade pressures from the United States and European Union to not sign the bill and stop it from becoming law. Last month, he seemingly caved to the pressure, citing constitutional concerns in sending it back to the Parliament.
Ben Cashdan is a South African documentary film maker and television producer who was active during the copyright reform process. He worked with Recreate ZA, which brought together a broad coalition of creatives, to advocate for both the interests of owning copyright in their own works, and in fairly using copyrighted materials in the creation of new works He joins me on the podcast this week to discuss the decade-long reform process, the external pressures, and explains why he thinks those pressures should be viewed as racist policies.
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