Privacy Network to provide forum for business on legal issues

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.

On Tuesday Microsoft Canada Co., in conjunction with Bell Security Solutions Inc. and the University of Toronto‘s Centre for Innovation Law and Policy (CILP) launched 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 three to four years ago when Mike Gurski, then an employee at the Ontario Privacy Commissioner’s office, asked Janice Stein, a well-known 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 businesses 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 different pieces and bring together all the experiences from all the different privacy communities.”

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 in terms of 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.

One of the main issues is a lack of understanding in terms of how to implement legislation, especially the federal Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). PIPEDA is up for review this year by the federal Privacy Commissioner, who tabled her first report of the act last fall since it was fully implemented in 2004. B.C., Alberta and Quebec have enacted similar legislation and Ontario has the Personal Health Information Act. Some experts say the federal legislation is confusing for businesses in that it doesn’t provide enough detail of how to implement systems that comply with regulations.

“Most companies are trying to comply,” said Bernice Karn, partner at Toronto law firm Cassels Brock LLP, who also specializes in information technology law. “There’s a lot of confusion out there as to what’s required. That’s due in large part to the way the law is written.”

Karn added that many of her clients are looking to the law for guidance and they can’t figure it out.

Owens said in terms of application, biggest issues are electronic health records and problems in terms of multi-jurisdictional data processing and off-shoring.

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