Public and private sector organizations have banded together to create one of North America’s first networks where businesses can access information on and discuss issues related to privacy law.

In March, Microsoft Canada Co., in conjunction with Bell Security Solutions Inc. and the University of Toronto’s Centre for Innovation Law and Policy (CILP) launched theprivacynetwork.org. The site, which is hosted at U of T, is a place where users can search for privacy information and collaborate in online discussion forums moderated by industry experts from around the globe. The Centre for Communications and Information Technology, formerly known as CITO, which is a division of the Ontario government’s Ontario Centres of Excellence, has also contributed funding to the CILP.

The idea for the portal began four years ago when Mike Gurski, then an employee at the Ontario Privacy Commissioner’s office, asked Janice Stein, a researcher at U of T’s founding director of the Munk Centre for International Studies, to research privacy. Her solution was to create a network where experts could collaborate on privacy-related issues. From there, the university began discussions with some of its private sector partners, including Microsoft Canada and Bell Canada.

“We’re finally getting to the point where privacy principles in the age of the Internet are being applied to business in a way that we’re getting a growing body of decisions,” said Richard Owens, executive director of the CILP. “It’s a confusing process. We need to connect the pieces and bring together all the experiences from the different privacy communities.”

Empowering practitioners
The site, which is hosted at the CILP’s site on the U of T campus, is based on Microsoft SharePoint 2003 software that is running on Windows Server 2003. Microsoft, which donated the software free of charge as part of its Solution Sharing Network program, added a collaboration tool to the system that allows visitors to the site to participate in online discussions and create discussion lists. To take advantage of this feature, users are required to create a login name and password to access a protected area of the site. U of T law students will also have an opportunity to participate in the Web site’s development by supporting and building the communities of experts.

“It’s all about empowering those practitioners to create their own sites and have that discussion occur,” said John Weigelt, national technology officer at Microsoft Canada.

Bell, which is providing technical support to U of T, said the portal offers experts a way to communicate with consumers.

“The people often don’t know they have counterparts that are looking at those issues or establish those discussions,” said Gurski, who started at Bell eight months ago and is the privacy strategist with Bell Security Solutions.

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