Privacy Complaints Increased 50 Percent in 2014

2014 a landmark year for international cooperation on privacy, says commissioner
June 11, 2015 Updated: June 11, 2015

Privacy advocates say a jump in the number of privacy related complaints in 2014 is proof that Canadians are increasingly concerned about privacy issues. They say privacy concerns will only escalate in the coming years.

The privacy commissioner’s annual report released this week found an increase of more than 50 percent in complaints in 2014, with the commissioner investigating 402 complaints under Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), compared to 250 in 2013.

“It is probably reasonable to say that privacy will be one of the key emerging areas of interest to citizens over the next decade and increasing exponentially as technologies develop and different actors find ways of taking advantage of data,” said Brenda McPhail, director of the Privacy, Technology and Surveillance Project at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“People are starting to wake up to the fact they have privacy rights. Companies get away with these types of actions because people don’t care and don’t speak up. That time is passing and people are starting to stand up and say ‘I do have rights.'”

Titled “Privacy Protection: A Global Affair,” the report says 2014 was a landmark year for international collaboration among privacy enforcement authorities.

People are starting to wake up to the fact they have privacy rights.
— Brenda McPhail, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien examined several international cases including one involving Romania-based website, which collected and published the personal information of Canadians. In another case, Therrien worked with authorities in the U.K., Australia, and Macao to shut down a website in Eastern Europe that posted links to images—including those of Canadians—from unsecured webcams.

“The digital economy has created a borderless world when it comes to commerce, but it also means more and more personal information is being shared across jurisdictions,” Therrien wrote.

A major initiative in 2014, according to the report, was the acceptance of the Global Cross Border Enforcement Cooperation Arrangement by 55 data protection authorities from around the world. Slated to come into effect in the fall of 2015, the arrangement is aimed at fostering more coordinated approaches to addressing cross-border privacy issues.

In addition, a new privacy bill, the Digital Privacy Act, will make it mandatory for companies to inform clients of privacy breaches.

“More and more information is being collected by companies and being sent by more and more [devices]. It isn’t just computers or our phones, but also our watches, our cars, and maybe even our fridges at some point,” said McPhail.

“It is important to think not just about what the technology can do to pick up that info and predict behaviour, but what we want it to do and the companies to do with this massive data that they are compiling.”

Sharon Polsky, president of the Privacy and Access Council of Canada, said she believes privacy may become an election issue this year.

“Canadians are increasingly concerned about the weak privacy protections and the lack of recourse here. The good thing is Canadians are becoming increasingly aware that privacy is something to be concerned about and something to be aware of and something that is valuable,” said Polsky.

“The bad thing is we don’t have effective legislation to protect Canadians’ personal information, perhaps because if you don’t protect it there is economic value to analyze it and evaluate it.”

Kaven Baker-Voakes is a freelance reporter based in Ottawa.