Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Sounds Alarm On Move To Digital Economy

Canada’s privacy watchdog warns that the country is reaching a 'tipping point' as it transforms into a full digital economy.

Federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a letter to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains that Canadians privacy could be threatened as the country moves closer to a digital economy, and that people’s personal information needs to be protected and put above commercial gain.

While there are high hopes for digital technologies and big data to drive productivity, growth and competitiveness across Canada, Commissioner Therrien warned that the nation has reached a "critical tipping point" in the adoption of technology and digital transactions. The Commissioner warned that mass digitization is reshaping humanity, putting privacy rights and democratic values at stake.

"Recent events have shed light on how personal information can be manipulated and used in unintended, even nefarious ways," he wrote in the letter. "I am growing increasingly troubled that longstanding privacy rights and values in Canada are not being given equal importance within a new digital ecosystem eagerly focused on embracing and leveraging data for various purposes."

Commissioner Bains launched a national consultation process on digital and data transformation in June 2018. The goal is to help Ottawa "better understand how Canada can drive innovation, prepare Canadians for the future of work, and ensure they have trust and confidence in how their data is used."

Roundtable discussions were held with businesses, academics, civil society representatives and others, while Canadians were invited to share their views online. At the time, the government repeated its commitment to ensuring Canadians' personal information would be protected and secure.

It is not immediately clear how the federal government in Ottawa will react to Commissioner Therrien’s comments or consultations on digital and data transformation.