The House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics tabled its Report, entitled “Privacy and Social Media in the Age of Big Data” on April 23, 2013.

The report is the result of 15 meetings of the Committee and 30 witnesses between May 29, 2012 and December 11, 2012. The Committee’s Report summarizes the witness’s testimony but doesn’t suggest any legislative response. Some issues are punted to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) to establish guidelines. Other issues, such as children’s privacy interests, enforcement powers of the OPC, Do Not Track and “privacy as the default” are discussed but the Committee offers no recommendations.

OPC’s Homework

The Committee may not have had advice or solutions on many of the issues, but it was ready to recommend that the OPC develop more guidelines. Among the guidelines that the Committee wishes to see the OPC develop are:

  • Guidelines for social media and data management companies regarding accountability and openness
  • Guidelines for drafting policies, agreements and contracts in clear, accessible language that facilitates meaningful and ongoing consent
  • Guidelines for mechanisms to ensure individuals have access to personal information held by them, mechanisms to limit how long information could be held, and mechanisms to facilitate deletion of information

Protection of Children

Although the Committee recognized the special issues of obtaining informed, meaningful consent and protecting children on the Internet, there were no calls by the Committee for a U.S.-style Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Instead, the Committee simply recommended that the Government of Canada and social media companies “continue to provide support to organizations that provide education and training on digital activities and privacy.” The Committee also urged social media companies to promote safe online environments that are protective of the privacy interests of children and young persons.

No Comment on Enforcement Powers for the OPC

Intriguingly, after reviewing the competing perspectives on increasing the enforcement powers of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the Committee ducked the issue by stating that the Committee hoped the discussion would be of benefit to future legislative review:

“The evidence presented to the Committee demonstrates the competing views regarding the enforcement powers of the Privacy Commissioner. On the one hand, the current model facilitates the constant flow of information and good will between the private sector and the Privacy Commissioner, and has proven effective in ensuring that this relationship remains cordial and non-adversarial. On the other hand, much can and has been said regarding how the current model favours self-regulation and is not adequately prepared to ensure compliance when self-regulation fails. The Committee hopes that this valuable discussion will be of benefit to any future legislative review in this regard.”

Many will be disappointed, no doubt, with the lack of substance to the recommendations. No doubt we will hear more in the coming weeks as Canada’s approach is compared and contrasted with the U.S.’s recent  revamp of COPPA Rules and the U.S. Commerce hearings on Do Not Track.…