Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, called for her role as privacy watch dog to be given sharper teeth on Wednesday at Canada 3.0 in Stratford, Ont.
Stoddart is asking for the ability to issue stiff monetary penalties against companies that allow for customers’ data to slip through their fingers and into the hands of cyber-criminals. She’s also asking for the law to require the reporting of data breaches as soon as they occur.
The commissioner’s request is reasonable and should be granted as soon as Parliament has opportunity to revisit Canada’s private-sector privacy legislation. Such powers are already enjoyed by Stoddart’s peers around the world – in Europe for example, where France issued a fine to Google over the accidental collection of unprotected Wi-Fi data by Street View cars while Canada was only able to conduct an investigation and make recommendations to Google.
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By comparison, even Stoddart’s provincial counterparts can flex more muscle when dealing with privacy breaches.
It’s not like privacy watch dogs haven’t given corporations dealing with personal information fair warning. Almost exactly one year ago, Stoddart worked with several of her European peers to warn Google that “showing willful disregard for privacy in online services” would not be tolerated. The rebuke followed Google’s launch of Buzz, a social networking service that made some previously private Gmail information public.
In an Internet culture where more than half of Canadians are using Facebook, which has a spotty privacy record at best, and even more use Google services, Canada needs a strong regulator to protect the privacy of its citizens. A recent class-action lawsuit launched by a Toronto law firm against Sony for its PlayStation Network breach, and another one launched last year on behalf of Canadians against Facebook, shows that the legal system is already trying to compensate for the gaps in Canada’s privacy enforcement.
But even successful lawsuits won’t change the fact that millions of Canadians have had their personal details leaked to strangers through no fault of their own.
Canada’s privacy watch dog has been barking long and loud, it’s time we let it bite.