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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The state of Canadian privacy law has been ongoing source of concern with many experts concluding that the law is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. This is particularly true when contrasted with rules in the European Union that feature tough penalties and new privacy rights. It would appear that the province of Quebec has concluded that the waiting has gone on long enough. The provincial government recently introduced Bill 64, which if adopted would overhaul provincial privacy laws and provide a potential model for both the federal government and the other provinces.
Eloïse Gratton is a partner at the law firm of Borden Ladner Gervais in Montreal and recognized as one of Canada’s leading privacy law practitioners. She joins the podcast to break down Bill 64 and its implications for privacy enforcement, accountability and new privacy rights.
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Last week, I had the enormous honour to deliver the first IAPP Ian Kerr Memorial Lecture. The IAPP and the broader privacy community has been incredibly supportive in the months since Ian’s passing, recognizing his exceptional contributions to the field and stepping up to help support the Ian R. Kerr Memorial Fund at the University of Ottawa. The Ian Kerr Memorial Lecture, which will be an annual lecture held by the IAPP, provided an opportunity to rediscover Ian’s scholarship and think about how he would been an essential voice during the current global pandemic. The lecture – along with introductions from IAPP President Trevor Hughes and UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham – can be found here and is embedded below.
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In the months before the coronavirus outbreak, numerous governments around the world enthusiastically jumped on the “regulate tech” train. Digital tax proposals, content regulation requirements, national digital spending mandates, as well as new privacy and data governance rules were viewed by many as essential to respond to the increasing power and influence of digital giants such as Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes the pandemic has not only sparked a massive shift in economic and health policy priorities, but it is also likely to reorient our views of the tech sector. Companies that only months ago were regarded as a threat are now integral to the delivery of medical equipment, critical to the continuing function of workplaces in a work-from-home world, and the platforms for online education for millions of students. Billions of people rely on the sector for entertainment, communication with friends and family, and as the gateway to health information.
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