Privacy research to analyze ID theft, RFID, surveillance

When the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association needed help researching how to best protect Canadians from identity theft, it turned to an expert who had played a key role in developing the country’s private sector privacy law.

FIPA, which has been awarded $49,775 as part

of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program, tapped Stephanie Perrin, president of Digital Discretion in Montreal, to lend a hand. As then director of privacy policy at Industry Canada, she worked on the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which first came into effect in 2001.

“”It’s really important that somebody pony up money to research what’s going on, how to fix it,”” said Perrin, arguing that a lack of data protection legislation is one reason identity theft is so rampant across Canada. “”We regard (the research) as input to the legislation review process…We will be advocating certain best practices on the (FIPA) Web site.””

The FIPA research project is just one of the various initiatives being funded by the Privacy Commissioner. Late last week, it announced it had awarded $371,590 under the program, which was launched last June, to help non-profit organization such as universities, advocacy groups and trade associates to research the privacy impacts of emerging technology.

As part of its project, FIPA will analyze the relationship among identify theft, technology and current private sector information management practices. The project will also include a review of private sector information handling practices for gaps in privacy and security that might be exploited by identity thieves. This research will serve as the basis for thorough policy proposals on how PIPEDA might be used in the fight against identity theft and personal information fraud.

The awarded project comes on the heels of a telephone survey conducted last year by Ipsos Reid in which 75 per cent of Canadian adults expressed concerns about identity theft. Of this number, 35 per cent were “”very concerned”” and 40 per cent were “”somewhat concerned.”” When these respondents were asked how likely they would be to provide personal or account information to institutions they deal with regularly, only 14 per cent said they would likely comply.

quot;Big companies have the money to do research,”” said Perrin. “”Small companies don’t. We know people care about their privacy…It’s very important that people start to understand the technology implications. This (research) will bring up the level of awareness and understanding.””

The Privacy Commissioner also awarded $27,390 to the B.C.-based University of Victoria’s department of political science for a study on the privacy implications of geographic location technologies used in Canada. The project will look at the potential privacy issues surrounding the possible implementation of geographic location devices in cell phones to enhance 911 emergency services and will identify these and other emerging location technologies that are in use in Canada. An analysis of the most serious privacy implications will also include recommendations for addressing the risks through federal or provincial legislation.

Dr. Colin Bennett, chair of the university’s department of political science, said the awarded funds will enable him to update some related research he had worked on from 2001 to 2003. That project, funded by U.S. granting agency National Science Foundation, focused on similar issues. But the current project will provide an opportunity to engage in research more specific to Canada.

“”Our intention is to give the privacy commissioner some (recommendations) which are practical and can allow them to anticipate the type of issues involved,”” said Bennett. “”There are a variety of products and services on the market that allow companies to monitor employees. That will impact how we think about privacy protection.””

The Privacy Commissioner also awarded $14,603 to Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia for a study on the legal and privacy implications on radio frequency identification tags. The study will investigate technical interoperability and the potential for information stored in tags to be matched with data from other systems. An assessment of the privacy risks and legal measures needed to protect privacy will be based on this initial research.

“”This technology is extremely diverse and is being deployed in a whole range of contexts, not just a consumer context,”” said Teresa Scassa, associate professor at the Dalhousie Law School. “”We’ll certainly being looking at concerns by businesses. It’s possible to build safeguards into the technology. But it’s not required by laws right now.””

Scassa said the researchers will look at whether existing privacy laws are sufficient or whether new laws are required. Facilitating this process, she continued, is the collaborative relationship involving the Law and Technology Institute of the Dalhousie Law School and the Faculty of Computer Science, which will enable the university to consider legal and technological concerns.

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