Privacy expert Ann Cavoukian: federal ‘digital charter’ is pre-election posturing

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — One of Canada’s leading privacy experts said Monday she’s in favour of the federal government’s recently announced “digital charter” but thinks it should have been brought out long ago.

If the government was serious about protecting Canadian privacy and digital rights, it would have acted last year or the year before, former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian said.

She said the Trudeau government signalled in a report released in February 2018, that it was thinking about some of the principles contained in the digital charter but waited until May to release it.

“It’s talk. It’s for show. And that’s what upsets me, because the government had a real chance of making this a reality and they chose not to do that,” Cavoukian said.

“That’s what I object to, not the contents of the digital charter… . If this was real, it would have been done last year or the year before.”

Cavoukian was commenting at the annual Canadian Telecom Summit in Mississauga, Ont.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, who responsible for the digital charter as well as telecommunications, will speak at the same conference on Wednesday.

The minister last month unveiled the 10-point digital charter that he said was necessary to build trust in a rapidly evolving society and economy that’s increasingly data-reliant.

His comments came a few days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a technology conference in Paris that his government intended to introduce a new digital charter to combat hate speech, misinformation and online electoral interference.

A member of the Bains’ staff said by phone that the minister understands Cavoukian’s position but feels the government updated one of Canada’s privacy laws last year and plans to do more in future.

Earlier Monday, the chairwoman of a government-appointed panel looking at Canada’s telecommunications and broadcasting laws said the goal is to make its recommendations in January.

Janet Yale said after her speech to the conference that members of her panel are going to keep their minds “open and independent of the political machinations that may be going on around us.”

“And what I said today was to encourage everybody, when they see our final report, to think not just about whether our recommendations align with their short-term interests, whoever they are,” she said.

“Think about what it’s going take for Canada to have a successful future that leverages digital technology, on the one hand, (and) addresses our cultural sovereignty and enhances the rights of digital citizens and digital consumers. That’s the goal.”

Canada’s telecom network companies have been spending billions of dollars annually to prepare their home and wireless services for new generations of technology that are about to become commercial.

At the same time, Canada’s media owners — including telecom providers like Bell and Rogers — are forced to confront the impact of international companies like Google, Facebook and other giants.

“I think the work of the panel has to take into account that borders are disappearing when it comes to the way in which consumers access information and audio-visual content.

Yale told her audience that they should limit their expectations for the interim report, saying it will only deal with what the panel has heard and not what it will recommend to legislators.

The panel is overseen by Bains, the minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, which is responsible for the Telecommunications Act, and Pablo Rodriguez, the minister for Canadian Heritage, which is responsible for the Broadcasting Act.

Companies in this story: (TSX:BCE, TSX:RCI.B)

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