Click here to read the Toronto Star‘s front page coverage of CCLA’s challenge.
CCLA is bringing an Application in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to challenge parts of Canada’s federal private-sector privacy legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). This is the law that regulates how personal information is collected, used and disclosed by private commercial organizations. It is part of the scheme that has allowed government institutions to access personal information from telecommunications companies and internet service providers on a massive scale, and CCLA believes the law is overly broad and violates fundamental rights.
Why is CCLA bringing a lawsuit to challenge PIPEDA?
CCLA believes that our current privacy legislation, PIPEDA, has not kept pace with modern technology, because it enables too much information sharing by the private sector to government, and that it may have significant and adverse impacts on people’s lives. Information gathered by the government may be used for the purposes of investigating and laying criminal charges and may also be shared with foreign governments. Once this information is shared with governments outside of Canada, we effectively lose control over how and why it is used. Furthermore, the current provisions may allow government to do an end run around warrant requirements.
CCLA’s lawsuit aims to strike down some provisions of the privacy legislation so that the law can be changed in a manner that is more protective of individual rights and freedoms.
When can my telecommunications or internet service provider hand my personal information over to government?
The general rule is that your information cannot be disclosed to others without you knowing about it and giving your consent. However, there are some big exceptions to this rule. Provisions of PIPEDA allow information to be disclosed to a government institution (including law enforcement agencies) for purposes of national security and the enforcement of any law of Canada, any province or a foreign jurisdiction. Law enforcement agencies are relying heavily on private corporations like telecom companies and internet service providers to gather information about Canadians and are frequently doing so without judicial oversight and with little transparency or accountability. In light of recent revelations that government institutions requested personal information from telecommunications providers over 1 million times in a one year period, CCLA is standing up for the privacy rights of Canadians and challenging these laws.
Does the government need a warrant to get this information?
A warrant or court order is usually necessary before law enforcement agencies can obtain access to personal information in the hands of an organization. However, law enforcement and telecommunications providers have taken the position that basic subscriber information (customer name and address) is not private and that a warrant is therefore unnecessary.
While the information usually found in a phonebook is likely not considered confidential or sensitive, associating a name and address with an individual Internet protocol (IP) address, may reveal many intimate details about an individual’s online activities and about them personally. It remains unclear precisely what information is being handed over by telecommunications and internet service providers to government institutions, absent a warrant, but CCLA is concerned about the massive scale of the information exchange and has decided to take action.