The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is endorsing new legislation introduced by the provincial government to protect privacy in the private sector. Bill 38, the Personal Information Protection Act, will require all private organizations to follow fair information practices, including obtaining consent from British Columbians, before collecting, using or disclosing their personal information.
The BCCLA is now calling on the government to make sure that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner – the agency responsible for overseeing compliance with the law – has adequate resources to ensure that organizations in the private sector follow the law.
According to Murray Mollard, Executive Director of the BCCLA, “The government deserves credit for taking the initiative to create a made-in-B.C. law that will enhance the privacy of British Columbians. But this law will only protect privacy if Commissioner Loukidelis and his staff have enough resources to ensure compliance. With recent cuts to his office, and more cuts pending, there is a real prospect that the law will become a paper tiger.”
The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, like other independent offices of the legislature, has faced substantial cuts (20% over the last two years) and faces another 15% next year. With the added mandate of overseeing privacy in the private sector, a mandate that will significantly increase its workload, the Office will simply not have the ability to make sure private organizations change their information practices to conform to the law without the addition of new resources.
The provincial government has introduced Bill 38 in anticipation of the application of a federal law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, as of January 2004. Bill 38, if judged by the federal government to be “substantially similar” will supplant the application of the federal act. The federal law will continue to apply to federally regulated businesses. The federal government enacted its legislation to meet demands by the European Union that trading partners have adequate privacy protections in law.
Mollard believes that the B.C. law is an important step in the evolution of legal protections for privacy. “A provincial law is necessary to make sure that provincially regulated employees – a group of people who regularly complain of privacy intrusions by employers – have privacy protections as well. The federal law, for constitutional reasons, does not extend to provincial employees.”
Bill 38 is the result of extensive consultations by the provincial government with interested stakeholders from a variety of industries and interests, including the BCCLA. The Association is not pleased with all the provisions in the law. In particular, the definition of “investigation” is much broader than under the federal law thus B.C. Civil Liberties Association News Release May 2, 2003 allowing a broad exemption from the consent requirement. In addition, organizations should be prohibited from disclosing a client’s personal information when private investigators come calling about a third party dispute with a client. But, on balance, with adequate oversight, the legislation is an important legal tool for protecting privacy.
British Columbians have consistently voiced concerns about the erosion of their privacy. Progressive businesses understand that protecting their clients’ privacy is good for business. Bill 38 has been designed to make it easier for companies to protect privacy with minimal cost to their operations.