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Analysis: Does Bill C-27 Reflect Lessons Learned from Past Public Outcry? Data Sharing for Public Good

Tersa Scassa | | Jul 11, 2022

Canada bill c 27 and data privacy - Analysis:  Does Bill C-27 Reflect Lessons Learned from Past Public Outcry?  Data Sharing for Public Good[Note: This is my third in a series of posts on the new Bill C-27 which will reform private sector data protection law in Canada and which will add a new Artificial Intelligence and Data Act. The previous two posts addressed consent and de-identification/anonymization.]

In 2018 a furore erupted over media reports that Statistics Canada (StatCan) sought to collect the financial data of a half a million Canadians from Canadian banks to generate statistical data. Reports also revealed that it had already collected a substantial volume of personal financial data from credit agencies. The revelations led to complaints to the Privacy Commissioner, who carried out an investigation and issued an interim and a final report. One outcome was that StatCan worked with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to develop a new approach to the collection of such data. Much more recently, there were expressions of public outrage when media reported that the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) had acquired de-identified mobility data about Canadians from Telus in order to inform their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to hearings before the ETHI Standing Committee of the House of Commons, and resulted in a report with a series of recommendations.

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Both of these instances involved attempts by government institutions or agencies to make use of existing private sector data to enhance their analyses or decision-making. Good policy is built on good data; we should support and encourage the responsible use of data by government in its decision-making. At the same time, however, there is clearly a deep vein of public distrust in government – particularly when it comes to personal data – that cannot be ignored. Addressing this distrust requires both transparency and strong protection for privacy.

Bill C-27, introduced in Parliament in June 2022, proposes a new Consumer Privacy Protection Act to replace the aging Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). As part of the reform, this private sector data protection bill contains provisions that are tailored to address the need of government – as well as the commercial data industry – to access personal data in the hands of the private sector.

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Two provisions in C-27 are particularly relevant here: sections 35 and 39. Section 35 deals specifically with the sharing of private sector data for the purposes of statistics and research. Section 7(3)(f) of PIPEDA contains an exception that is similar to s. 35. Section 39 is entirely new. Section 39 deals with the use of data for “socially beneficial purposes”. Both s. 35 and s. 39 were in the predecessor to C-27, Bill C-11. Only section 35 has been changed since C-11 – a small change significantly broadens its scope.

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