Privacy Reform Legislation is Back as Bill C-27. Will Anything Good Come From It?

After many long years, privacy reform is finally tabled as Bill C-27. The thing is, one wonders if anything good will come from this.

The Canadian government has been dragging its feet for years on privacy reform. This despite the obviously urgent nature of privacy reform. In a modern age, sending strongly worded letters just will not cut it – especially if a company like Facebook is involved. Whether it is companies losing people’s personal information, getting hacked because of negligent security practices, or the blatant misuse people’s personal information, you really could highlight countless examples for why privacy reform is badly needed.

During the last government, the Liberal party did, in fact, introduce privacy reform. It was far from perfect, but this legislation seemed to be one last remnant of the good will that the Canadian government had when they were first elected. Ever since, the legislation stalled because the Innovation Minister, François-Philippe Champagne, couldn’t even be bothered to move it forward in any way. Unsurprisingly, the legislation died on the orderpaper when the election was called. The moves then really set the stage for why the government receives criticisms from privacy advocates – namely they are accused of showing complete indifference towards this urgent issue.

After the government returned from the election, there was no movement or apparent interest in the legislation. Faced with questions for why the Canadian government doesn’t seem to care about this issue, Champagne paid some lip service to the matter and said that it was his “top priority“. That was back in December of last year. Even then, we were expressing skepticism that he was even serious when he said this (hence the picture we used).

Now, here we are, five and a half months later, and right before the Summer break, it appears as though the Minister finally got around to re-tabling the bill. The legislation is now known as Bill C-27. As Michael Geist says, it is largely the same bill with some minor tweaks here and there:

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne yesterday unveiled Bill C-27, the updated privacy reform law. While Champagne described it is a “historic day”, the bill is better described as a case of Groundhog Day, since it looks an awful lot like the last privacy bill that died with last year’s election call and which never even advanced to the committee stage. I wrote earlier this week about the government’s seeming indifference to privacy and this bill doesn’t do much to change the analysis as the bill raises many of the same questions and will likely face similar opposition.

As for the bill itself, there are some changes, including specific provisions on children’s privacy, a clearer distinction between anonymized and de-identified data, more extensive rules around consent exceptions that will still allow organizations to make the case that consent isn’t needed, greater discretion for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to drop investigations into complaints, and the expansion of a new privacy tribunal to include three members with privacy experience (up from one). These changes will require further analysis, but other areas of controversy – the Privacy Commissioner objected to the tribunal altogether – remain in place. There is also a new bill designed to deal with artificial intelligence that will create new regulatory frameworks that are pretty lightweight when compared to developments in the European Union.

I plan to post more details on the bill in the coming weeks, but in the meantime there is a sense of “once bitten, twice shy” when it comes Bill C-27. Will Champagne and the government be willing to spend political capital to get the bill through the legislative process? Will they be willing to say no to the inevitable lobbying campaign that will seek to water down a bill that the privacy community will want strengthened? Will newly appointed Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne be comfortable standing up to the government by bringing forward the same criticisms as his predecessor? Canadians have waited years for privacy reform and the current government has shown limited interest in the issue. That’s going to need to change for Bill C-27 to provide the trust and security that Champagne claimed yesterday were essential rather than emerge as the latest in a long line of failed Canadian privacy reform initiatives.

Indeed, the fact that this legislation was introduced right before the Summer break really calls into question just how serious the government is about moving such a bill forward. Right now, the Canadian government has one of the most potent stenches of being an anti-technology government in history. Between being anti-free speech and anti-creator through Bill C-11, being anti-innovation in the news sector and even risking funnelling cash to foreign state funded misinformation campaigns through Bill C-18, and throwing the entire Canadian internet under the bus with online harms legislation (to name three), their raging hate towards technology is as obvious as the sky while standing in an open field.

The tabling of this legislation is almost as if to throw a bandaid on this gaping wound and declaring themselves the champion of innovation. If this was actually the intention, the effort will ring hollow from those who are seeing all these threats to the Canadian Internet unfolding. In fact, many expect history to repeat itself where the legislation will just languish with almost no effort to even move it forward in the first place. When nothing happens, the Minister will probably do what he did in March of 2021 and blame Conservatives for his inaction. With so many other instances of history repeating itself these days, it wouldn’t even be a surprise if that is going to happen at a later time at this point.

At any rate, the reception of the tabling of this legislation is going to be met with a luke warm responses at best. We haven’t even gotten into the contents of the bill itself which will no doubt spark criticisms. Critics are going to need more than just a largely carbon copy bill being tabled. With the Summer break coming in just days, that is unlikely to happen.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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