Manitoba Ombudsman News Release

September 14, 2012

Acting Manitoba Ombudsman Mel Holley has released an investigation report with recommendations under PHIA regarding snooping in electronic health records.

Read more, click here>>

Dealing with privacy complaints (video)

May 23, 2012

Has your organization received a privacy complaint from one of your customers or employees?  Privacy complaints are occurring more frequently these days because of new privacy laws and increasing privacy compliance expectations from customers and employees.  In this brief video, I chat about how your organization can best respond to privacy complaints. Hope it helps.

Privacy Breaches: Obligations and Pending Changes to PIPEDA (Video)

March 23, 2012

Has one of your organization’s employees lost their iPhone or Blackberry recently?  How about misplaced a file?  If those devices or files contain personal information, you may have suffered a privacy breach.  To learn more about how to deal with a privacy breach please watch this short video – click here>>

Fines needed to help stem growing data breaches, Privacy Commissioner says

May 4, 2011

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has called for legislation empowering her to impose substantial fines against major corporations that fail to adequately protect Canadians’ personal information from preventable breaches.

“I am deeply troubled by the large number of major breaches we are seeing, including serious incidents in recent weeks that have affected hundreds of thousands of Canadians,’’ Jennifer Stoddart said in a speech today at the Canada 3.0 forum in Stratford, Ont. “It seems to me that it’s time to begin imposing fines – significant, attention-getting fines – on companies when poor privacy and security practices lead to breaches.” To learn more, read the complete news release.

How safe is your scan? Hard drives on copy machines pose risk

October 20, 2010

Does your office have a copy machine? If so, then this post is worth reading.  CBC news has just released the results of an investigation that exposes the security risks associated with modern copy machines, specifically, the ease at which information scanned into certain copiers can be tapped. Just think about the information that gets scanned into your office copier. Personal information. Confidential corporate information such as client data. Even intellectual property. It’s a scary thought if you haven’t done your due diligence, especially considering that privacy laws can apply to certain data undoubtedly scanned into your copy machine. Check out CBC’s online story here or TV segment here. And if you’d like to learn more, you may also want to read my post from earlier this year which provided a link to a similar CBS news story.

Lessons from the Veteran Affairs Canada privacy breach

October 8, 2010

The recent headlines over the Veteran Affairs Canada privacy breach should serve as a useful reminder to all organizations – public and private sector – of the necessity to implement internal policies and procedures for the management of personal information. Much attention is paid these days by the media to privacy breaches that involve external parties, such as hackers, who foil the security safeguards of organizations. However, in my experience the bigger threat to privacy if often from within an organization.

In this recent case involving Veteran Affairs, a veteran had filed a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (“OPC”) alleging that Veterans Affairs had violated the Privacy Act by including excessively detailed and sensitive medical information in briefing notes to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. The complainant also alleged that Veteran Affairs had transferred his medical file to a hospital administered by Veterans Affairs without his consent.

The OPC has issued the following formal recommendations to Veterans Affairs, but they should also serve as useful recommendations to other organizations:

  • “Take immediate steps to develop an enhanced privacy policy framework with adequate protections and controls to regulate access to personal information within the department.
  • Revise existing information-management practices and policies to ensure that personal information is shared within the department on a need-to-know basis only.  Personal information, including but not limited to sensitive medical information, should not be shared with programs that have no operational requirements for access to such information.
  • Provide training for employees about appropriate personal information-handling practices.
  • Review procedures to ensure that consent is obtained prior to personal information being transferred to veterans’ hospitals.”

Another day, another privacy breach…

October 6, 2010

CBC News is reporting that “[g]arbage bags filled with confidential financial information were found blowing around in a [Winnipeg] North End back lane Tuesday, and people living in the area say they’re furious because of it. The bags contain tax return documents that include people’s names, social insurance numbers and in many cases, addresses and other sensitive financial information.”

This and other similar news stories should serve as a reminder that PIPEDA requires organizations to exercise care in the disposal or destruction of personal information to prevent unauthorized parties from gaining access to the information (for example, don’t dispose of sensitive tax information records in a back lane). Other provincial laws, such as Alberta’s PIPA and B.C.’s PIPA, have similar requirements. Disposal or destruction policies and procedures should focus on physical, organizational and technological measures.

Data Security Budgets to Rocket

September 16, 2010

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has just released its Global State of Information Security Survey, which says that corporate spending on data security will increase sharply in the coming years. reports that more than half of respondents to the PWC survey say that their companies plan to spend more on technological defences against security breaches, an increase of 14% from last year.  The survey also reveals that the impact of security breaches is growing.  According to “the number of companies reporting financial losses from data breaches increased 6% in the past year to 20%, up from only 8% in 2008.  Intellectual property theft has increased to effect 15% of companies reporting data breaches, up from just 5% in 2008.  An increase in the number of sophisticated attacks aimed at stealing information from specific companies is also driving increased security spending according to the Financial Times.” 

The PWC survey demonstrates that spending is shifting to monitoring of company networks, at a time when more employees are bringing their own PDA’s and computers into the workplace.  But as PWC states, businesses should be making employees the first line of defence against data leaks. 

The PWC survey and commentary serves as a reminder of the need to focus resources for data security (and privacy law compliance) strategically. This means investing in technological safeguards but it should mean investing in privacy training for your staff.  It’s an important point because so many of the privacy breaches these days result from mistakes, or human error, by one’s own employees.  I’d suggest that you compare your organization’s line item for network monitoring with your line item (if it exists) for privacy training. Are your privacy risk mitigation efforts as strategic as they could be?

A Conversation with Frank Work, Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner

February 3, 2010

Continuing a series of blog posts that I’m calling “A Conversation with…” (the first being A Conversation with Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada), I’m delighted to post the following conversation with Frank Work.

Commissioner Work is as personable as he is professional. I’ve had the pleasure to speak at privacy conferences with Commissioner Work and let’s just say that I’m glad I presented first!  As privacy professionals will know, he’s a plain spoken, intelligent speaker and so his sessions are always a “must attend”.

Thanks to Commissioner Work for agreeing to engage in this online Q & A conversation.  If you’d like to learn more about Frank Work, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta (the “Alberta OIPC”) or the issues raised in this conversation, I’d encourage you to visit the Alberta OIPC’s website.

Q.  Your office has investigated identity theft arising from crystal meth abuse. What’s the link between the two?

A.  A couple of years ago the Edmonton police raided a hang out for meth users.  They found a lot of papers from businesses in the area, which they gave to us.  Cell phone contracts, credit bureau checks, credit card information and so on.  The police told me that meth users, unlike some other substance abusers, are pretty alert when they are high.  They don’t sleep.  They have lots of time to do the kind of detailed work necessary to engineer credit card fraud and identity theft.

Q.  So what can the public do to protect itself from that kind of identity theft?

A.  Individuals should shred bank and credit card statements.  They shouldn’t carry certain ID, like birth certificates, on them. These kinds of foundation documents are very useful for identity theft.  Always report lost or stolen credit cards, but also lost or stolen driver’s licences, birth certificates, and passports.  Check your bank and credit card statements to make sure someone else isn’t using them.  Do a credit bureau reference on yourself maybe once a year.  If your score is lower than you think, find out why.  If your score changes from one year to the next, find out why. Sometimes it can be identity theft (someone using your good name). Sometimes it can be an error on the part of the credit bureau.

The other side of the problem is organizations that have peoples’ info.  They must take proper care of it.  As I said, we have been given credit reports, draft mortgages, cell phone contracts, purchase of goods contracts and bookkeepers files, all thrown away.  These papers all have potential for fraudulent use.  Businesses need to shred this stuff.  Furthermore, for businesses that have customer databases, how well secured is it?  Who on their staff has access to it?  We have had cases where someone in the business is taking the info and using or selling it for fraud and identity theft.

Q.  Alberta’s private sector privacy legislation was recently amended to include mandatory breach notification. How will this impact privacy regulation in, and outside of, Alberta?

A.  It is early days yet.  Hopefully it will make organizations extra careful with personal information.  Will that raise the bar for organizations in other provinces?  Maybe.  If you are going to change your practices here, you might as well change them everywhere.  Possibly more provinces will legislate.  A big piece of the picture will be when the Federal government amends PIPEDA in this regard.  Maybe this will increase pressure to do so.  It will be a challenge to figure out what “a real risk of significant harm” is.  It will be a challenge to figure out in which cases there should be notice given and what kind of notice.

Q.  You’ve worked as a lawyer in different countries around the world. How does Canada’s approach to privacy compare to your experience in other places?

A.  We aren’t perfect but we are way ahead of most other jurisdictions.  The “commissioner” system of enforcement has served us well because we do not have the kind of well funded civil society organizations which can advocate for privacy.  Commissioners can and do advocate.  I mean, I would love to have an ACLU, or and EPIC or an EFF in Canada.  Our civil liberties people, like FIPA in BC do great work with the resources they have but resources are scarce.  We need some rich people to endow some of these groups.  The other thing is that I think, relative to other societies, Canadians have a disposition towards privacy.  We get it to some extent.  I like to think it is because we are, yes, polite, and respectful of other people.  That makes us respect each other’s space.  We must not lose that as the world becomes one big facebook/google culture.  Teach your children well.

Q.  Looking forward, what kind of privacy developments should we watch for in 2010?

A.  Cyber attacks, hacks and other losses will continue.  Governments will continue to bring surveillance technologies to bear every time anything bad happens. I will continue to get judicially reviewed.  I would like to think people will start resisting surveillance and other intrusions into their lives but I don’t see it happening.  Governments like surveillance.  Heck, the public likes surveillance because we are just so bad at risk assessment.  We are scared of everything it seems and we want someone to keep an eye on everything for us.  It will be interesting to see if technology begins to fail us.  For example, what if there is another airplane bombing attempt and the technology doesn’t prevent it?  They bring in new technology.  And that doesn’t prevent the next one (God forbid).  Maybe they run out of technology, although, for the money involved I don’t see that happening.  Someone will come up with a new toy.  Will someone ever say “this technology isn’t doing what we want it to and it is costing us a bundle?”  I think that will be a social shock.

A Conversation with Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada

January 25, 2010

I’m very pleased to be able to post the following conversation with Jennifer Stoddart

Since becoming Canada’s Privacy Commissioner in 2003, Commissioner Stoddart has undoubtedly raised the value of privacy in a time when security, trade, technology and consumer expectations have created a volatile atmosphere for our personal information. I might add that she has accomplished this admirable feat with passion and professionalism.  As a result, Canadians have been exceptionally well-served.

Of course, I’d like to thank Commissioner Stoddart for agreeing to engage in this online Q & A conversation.  If you’d like to learn more about Jennifer Stoddart, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (the “OPC”) or the issues raised in this conversation, I’d encourage you to visit the OPC’s website and blog.

Q. How did you get involved in the world of privacy?

A. Back in the spring of 2000, I happened to read an article in the New York Times Magazine by the noted American legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen. Prof. Rosen was explaining how personal privacy was being subtly eroded in the digital age. I was fascinated.

I was working at the Quebec Human Rights Commission at the time. The next week, I was asked to head up Quebec’s Access to Information and Privacy Commission, and that’s the field I’ve been in ever since.

Q. But it’s coming to an end.

A. Sadly. My seven-year term as Privacy Commissioner will wind up this year. On the plus side, though, I can look back with considerable pride at the progress we’ve made. The encroachments on privacy in this digital era really are staggering, but that doesn’t mean we’re letting them bowl us over.

Last year’s investigation into a complaint against Facebook was surely the most high-profile example of the kind of influence we have. And beyond that I would say that we’re making a meaningful difference, in countless other ways, every day of the year.

Q. What are the most rewarding aspects of being the Privacy Commissioner of Canada?

A. Certainly one of the most rewarding things for me is to know that our work matters, that it has a real and positive impact on the lives of Canadians.

As you know, it’s become fashionable in some circles to suggest that privacy is pretty much dead in this era of digital exhibitionism. But I think that’s totally wrong. And the best evidence for that was the worldwide response to our Facebook investigation.

Privacy may look different today than it did a generation – or even a decade – ago. But it remains an incredibly important and cherished value to Canadians. And to the extent that my Office can help protect that value, and advance privacy rights, I would say that is the most rewarding aspect of my job.

Q. What do you consider to be the greatest challenges for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada?

A. Our biggest challenges are the same that preoccupy data-protection authorities around the world: How to safeguard privacy rights in the face of so many rapidly changing technologies. You yourself have blogged about many of them – cloud computing, behavioural marketing, genetic technologies, to name just a few.

We’re seeing unimaginable quantities of data flash around the world, including to countries where data-protection laws are slim to non-existent. We’re also seeing technologies employed in the service of national security and law enforcement, but they’re guarded behind a wall of secrecy.

So the challenges are real, and they are huge.

Q. So how does an Office like yours keep up?

A. I guess the short answer is: By working smarter. We have zeroed in on four priority privacy challenges that are shaping and streamlining our work for the years ahead: information technology, genetic technology, national security and the protection of identity integrity.

We are re-engineering our internal processes to better handle the complaints and inquiries that come to our Office. We’re picking and choosing our privacy audits and our communications and public outreach efforts in order to maximize our impact. We’re ramping up our issuance of guidance, on the theory that an ounce of prevention outweighs a pound of cure. And we’re working with the global data-protection community, since so many of the challenges are international in scope.

But, most important of all, we’ve recently attracted an infusion of very bright, very knowledgeable – and in many cases young – new employees to key positions in our Office. They are really making a difference.

Q. If you could make a few recommendations for Canadian business leaders, what would you say?

A. First I’d thank them for having embraced PIPEDA, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act as it came into force over the past nine years. When I look at the situation of our neighbours to the south, where there is no single law at the federal level to protect the personal information of consumers in a commercial setting, I am deeply gratified by the way things can work up here.

Beyond that, I would encourage business leaders to continue to consult the guidelines we issue on specific topics for the purpose of clarifying the responsibilities of organizations under PIPEDA. And we invite them to work with us to fill any other information gaps they may have encountered.

I also want to take this opportunity to mention that data breach notification will become mandatory – and I suspect that will happen sooner rather than later. So I would encourage business leaders to start giving some thought now to how they can bring their processes into compliance. 

Q. Do you have any “privacy-related” predictions for 2010?

A. I don’t think you need a crystal ball to conclude that national security will continue to dominate the privacy landscape in the year ahead. The controversy that erupted over Transport Canada’s deployment of millimetre-wave scanners at Canadian airports was just the first of the privacy-related issues that we can expect to be hearing about in 2010.

And stay tuned for more during and after the Vancouver Olympics. There, one of the big issues will revolve around the pervasive crowd surveillance measures, and what will happen with all the cameras and recordings after the flame is extinguished.

I’ll just mention two other issues of particular interest to our Office, because we will be consulting Canadians on them in the next few months. The first will focus on the tracking, profiling and targeting of consumers by marketers and other businesses, and we’ll be hosting consultation forums on that topic in Toronto in April and Montreal in May. Soon after, we’ll organize another forum to discuss the privacy implications of cloud computing.


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