Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne said his office is recommending changes be made to the pending Bill C-11 to ensure that Canadians’ privacy will be protected in the collection of their data and content consumption, should the bill pass the Senate.
“The implementation of the bill in a way that ensures that requested information is de-identified or anonymized will be essential to my office, and we’ll be available to provide the necessary advice and guidance,” said Dufresne while testifying before the Senate communications committee on Sept. 14.
“Given this, and in light of the fundamental importance of privacy, the committee could consider amending section three of the Broadcasting Act to include the protection of the privacy of persons as the policy objective of that act,” Dufresne continued.
Bill C-11 will amend the Broadcasting Act to bring major online streaming platforms available in Canada—like Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon—under the regulating power of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which would be granted the authority to control what content is available to Canadians on the platforms.
The bill, which has passed the House of Commons and needs only to pass the Senate and receive royal assent before becoming law, would also grant the CRTC power to see how platforms’ algorithms are used to observe viewers’ watching habits and make recommendations based on them.
“These algorithms could use personal information, which is why I’ve stated that it’s going to be important in how the CRTC exercises these powers, that these privacy considerations be taken,” Dufresne said.
“We want to see privacy considered,” he continued. “And we want to see privacy impacts minimized.”
Despite Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez telling the House of Commons on Feb. 16 that “we will not regulate users or online creators through the bill or our policy,” C-11 states that it will grant the CRTC power to regulate not only platform-generated content, but also user-generated content on common streaming platforms like YouTube.
CRTC chair Ian Scott confirmed in May that the bill would grant the CRTC this authority.
“As constructed, there is a provision that would allow us to do it as required,” Scott told the House of Commons Canadian Heritage committee on May 18, adding that the CRTC would not abuse the power and that “there should be a higher degree of trust in relation to the commission’s future actions.”
Speaking about the collection of users’ information through algorithm monitoring, Dufresne told the Senate communications committee that the bill only allows for anonymous data to be collected.
“For us, it’s going to be important how these powers are exercised,” he said. “The Act specifies that the information provided to the CRTC should not be such that it can identify individuals.
“So to us that goes to notions of de-identification, anonymization. It’s going to be important that this be done in the right way with the proper techniques and with the proper inputs.”
Noe Chartier and Isaac Teo contributed to this report.