Jan. 1, 2004 no longer looks like doomsday to members of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance.

The organization has partnered with Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP (Gowlings)

to produce a guide to understanding Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), the soon-to-be-enforced federal and provincial privacy legislation.

PIPEDA was first introduced in 2001 and has so far been implemented in divisions of the transportation, telecommunication and health sectors. Beginning in 2004, the law will protect the privacy of all personal information collected by any business — and how to bring a business into compliance with the legislation is no small feat of understanding.

CATA members can now access the Gowlings-produced guide via the organization’s Web site. Though CATA’s members include big players like Alcatel and IBM, 80 per cent of its membership is comprised of small to medium-sized businesses — those who’ll need the guide the most.

“”The larger businesses have their own law firms, legal staff, all the sorts of people in line who can look at these kinds of issues and take the appropriate steps. The small guy needs a simple guide that will give them ideas on how to solve the problem. Reading the legislation won’t do that for you,”” says David Paterson, National Director of Public Affairs for CATA.

Andrew Foti, a partner in Gowlings’ national technology practice group, said the guide had “”sprung out of a need for technology companies to have a quick, credible reference tool to begin the process of complying with the legislation.””

Paterson notes that many of CATA’s members have yet to implement a privacy policy — CATA included — due to the complex nature of the legislation. He hopes the guide will be a sort of road map to help technology businesses implement effective policy and practice.

“”Gowlings has been dealing with this legislation since it was passed, they’re very familiar with it and they know how it works, and they’ve prepared a simple set of guidelines that our members can work with in establishing their privacy policy,”” says Paterson.

Because Gowlings has wide experience in serving the technology sector, Foti says that it was not difficult to address the needs of IT companies in constructing the guide. “”The requirements of IT companies aren’t really different from others except in the sense that IT companies are heavily reliant on digital information and the data they collect. Many have Web presences where they collect a large amount of digital information.””

Under the new laws, the use of personal information digitally collected or stored will be under scrutiny. As the public grows increasingly concerned about invasion of privacy and identity theft — both brought into focus earlier this year when a hard drive containing personal information from Co-operators Life Insurance Co. clients went missing — the possibility of clients raising complaints with the privacy commission is becoming very real.

“”You’ll have to make your policy clear to your customer before you do a transaction with them,”” warns Paterson. The hard part is making the privacy policy clear to the companies themselves, and that’s where the guides were needed.

“”There’s a lot of information out there already, and we just wanted to make it easy for CATA members to get something they could rely on that was business-oriented and not overly theoretical and not overly detailed,”” says Foti.

While the guides are available from CATA now, the organization will be rolling out a Web site redesign in the near future which will allow members to more easily view the guides online as well as download them.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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