Privacy Commissioner offers funding for special projects

Canadian privacy advocates Tuesday said they were thrilled by federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart’s announcement of a $200,000 fund for research and promotion of privacy.

The program was presented late last month

at the federal-provincial-territorial meeting of privacy and information commissioners late last month in Victoria, B.C. but was only formally announced this week. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner will award a maximum of $50,000 for a single project, and organizations are only eligible to receive funding for one project. The deadline for application is August 16 and projects must be completed within the next fiscal year.

Projects funded through the program may focus on the privacy implications for emerging technologies like radio frequency identification (RFID), biometric security and location-based services. Other projects can focus on the promotion of Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which came into full effect in January. The program will be open to non-profit groups, educational institutions and trade associations, among others.

“”It’s extremely hard to get money for this kind of stuff,”” said Darrell Evans, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “”Our raison d’etre is to lobby and influence legislation, which means we’re not eligible for foundation funds.””

Although there was money for research within the budget of disgraced former Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski, it was never spent appropriately, according to Valerie Steeves, an adjunct professor of law at Carleton University and the chair of the National Privacy Coalition. Radwanski left his job following a damning investigation that revealed wasteful spending on travel-related expenses.

“”You’d go to other departments looking for money, and they’d say, ‘But the privacy office has budget for that,'”” she said.

Lynda Leonard, vice-president of communications and research at the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), said she wasn’t aware of any current privacy-related projects at ITAC but that she would be investigating the opportunity.

“”Our initial focus was on getting PIPEDA right. There was a very elaborate and worthy consultation on legislation (with groups like ITAC) prior to the creation of the Act,”” she said. “”They collaborated quite well.””

Organizations like the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accounts have tried to come up with tools to help Canadian businesses better understand PIPEDA, which continues to confuse people. Evans said there were issues beyond compliance, however, that may also be worthy of the research money.

“”I’m concerned about the holes in PIPEDA,”” he said. “”It was written with a huge back door for governments to collect information. It’s not so much the private sector (privacy issues), it’s the merging of public and private sector databases.””

Steeves added that the funds were a good indication that Stoddart’s office was interested in working more closely with groups looking out for the interests of everyday Canadians.

“”With advocacy, it’s more the mandate of the public sector to fund the research,”” she said.

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