January 30, 2003
Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, responding to the release of the federal Privacy Commissioner’s new annual report, stressed her continuing concern over the federal government’s extension of anti-terrorism measures to other, non-terrorist purposes.
“I have serious concerns that an array of privacy-eroding legislation, intended to fight the threats of terrorism, will be used for purposes that have no connection to terrorism whatsoever,” said Commissioner Cavoukian.
She expressed strong support for Commissioner George Radwanski and his dogged efforts to bring national attention to a range of serious privacy issues facing the Canadian public. “Privacy is a cherished value that goes to the essence of our everyday life,” said Commissioner Cavoukian, “and we, as Privacy Commissioners, must stand together and do whatever we can to ensure that any diminishing of privacy is tied directly to real and measurable improvements in public safety and security.”
One federal program is of particular concern to Privacy Commissioners – the proposed Canada Customs and Revenue Agency’s (CCRA) passenger database. Over the last number of months, Commissioner Cavoukian and her provincial and territorial colleagues have repeatedly voiced their strong objections to the scope of this database. “It is simply indefensible for the federal government to collect personal profiles of all traveling Canadians, to allow this information to be used for purposes unrelated to terrorist threats, and to hold this information for six years,” said Commissioner Cavoukian. That was not the undertaking made by Ottawa to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. As Mr. Radwanski pointed out, the CCRA database lacks parliamentary authority and contravenes the federal Privacy Act, and must be stopped now, said Commissioner Cavoukian.
It is critically important that the federal government engage in open and constructive discussion with the public in order to resolve the serious and legitimate privacy concerns raised by the federal Commissioner, said Commissioner Cavoukian. “While privacy is not an absolute right, it must be considered. It must be balanced against other important public values, and this balancing exercise must become an ongoing exercise.”
“But we all have to turn down the rhetoric and try harder to work together to try to find the right solutions. There are ways of balancing legitimate security issues while maintaining essential privacy rights. We need to work together in earnest to find them,” said Commissioner Cavoukian.
She will be writing today to Revenue Minister Elinor Caplan, to note inaccuracies in some public statements made by the Minister regarding the CCRA database, but more importantly, to call for greater openness and dialogue. “Every Canadian wants to feel safe and secure,” said Commissioner Cavoukian, “but not at the expense of routine tracking and profiling of the law-abiding public by the government.”
Bob Spence, Communications Co-ordinator
416-326-3939 or 1-800-387-0073