Has the Time Come for a Private Sector Privacy Law in Ontario?

Aug 14 2020

Yesterday, the Ontario government released a discussion paper on improving private sector privacy for Ontarians in a digital age. The government is seeking input from Ontarians on a number of topics that many will recognize as being key ingredients of a modern privacy law in the private sector.

Everything from: enhanced transparency; clear consent rules and exceptions; individual rights of erasure and data portability; opportunities and requirements for using de-identified data; an agile and versatile range of regulatory tools to encourage compliance; and stronger penalties to enforce the law when needed.

The discussion paper also raises thoughtful questions about what should be the appropriate scope of application of a private sector privacy law in Ontario (given jurisdictional considerations) and invites reflection on creative ideas like data trusts to help govern access to data at the interface of public and private sectors for the broader public good.

While there has always been talk of a private sector privacy law in Ontario in years past, the timing of this initiative is not accidental. The wave of legislative reforms happening across the country (for example, Quebec’s Bill 64) and globally (the EU’s GDPR and California‘s CCPA) has spurred serious consideration of whether Ontario’s time has finally come. The global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for private-public collaborations in research and innovation, forced a move towards virtual workplaces, and accelerated consumer uptake of digital tools and solutions. All of these developments have laid bare significant regulatory gaps in Ontario that require urgent attention.

Never would I have imagined that so early in my mandate, I’d have the opportunity to weigh in on such an important and timely issue! Rest assured that my office will actively participate in the consultation process and offer whatever input, advice, and concrete experience may be helpful to inform the government’s efforts, and I encourage all of you to do the same. This is our chance to think big and bold, and to contribute to a made-in-Ontario solution that can potentially serve as a model for the world.

Patricia