What are the Aims of the Privacy Act (Canada)?

The Supreme Court of Canada has said that the Privacy Act (Canada) is fundamental to our legal system and that its two major goals are to protect personal information held by government institutions and to give individuals the right to access personal information about themselves. The Court recognized that because of these aims the law has a ‘quasi-constitutional’ status. This means that it is closely linked to the values and rights set out in our Constitution and therefore protects rights that are considered to be a fundamental part of our democratic freedom. *

The Privacy Act (Canada) Should be Updated

The Privacy Act (Canada) was enacted in 1982. It is a “first-generation” privacy law, and has not been substantially amended since 1982. Most agree that the Privacy Act (Canada) is outdated and provides very weak protection of personal information that is collected, used and disclosed by institutions of the Canadian government.

Since 1982 the world has been transformed by computer technology, and the Canadian government has as well. This has resulted in a completely different landscape for informational privacy than existed in 1982. Since 1982 we have seen:

  1. Courts deciding that privacy rights are quasi-constitutional;
  2. New developments in technology (widespread computer use, DNA analysis, the internet);
  3. New global law enforcement and anti-terrorism measures (for example, data-sharing with other countries; widespread video surveillance);
  4. New laws increasing government surveillance of citizens (for example, the Anti-Terrorism Act; the Public Safety Act; amendments to the Criminal Code);
  5. The creation of many new government departments, each of which collect, use and disclose the personal information of Canadians (including Human Resources and Skills Development Canada; Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada; Social Development Canada; Service Canada, among others); and
  6. Vastly increased amounts of information-sharing between Canadian and foreign governments.

In 2006 the Privacy Commissioner issued a report entitled “Government Accountability for Personal Information: Reforming the Privacy Act”. In that report she called on the federal government to make changes to the Privacy Act (Canada) to modernize it and raise the standards for privacy protection, among other changes.

By 2008, since there had been no reform of the Privacy Act (Canada), the Privacy Commissioner issued an Addendum to Government Accountability for Personal Information: Reforming the Privacy Act.

* Lavigne v. Canada (Commissioner of Official Languages), 2002 SCC 53 (S.C.C.) at para. 24)