Not any more

Concept of privacy in danger: Information commissioner

In Canada on August 17, 2010 at 21:02

OTTAWA — The world has less then a decade to make the protection of personal information and online privacy a priority before the two concepts are lost forever, according to Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Speaking at a conference held at the University of Ottawa, Ann Cavoukian said Tuesday that information is already flowing freely and technology is advancing at a pace where legislation pertaining to privacy rights can no longer keep up.

Cavoukian argued now is the time for governments to radically change the way they police the sharing of personal information. Government’s around the world must adopt a "privacy first" mantra and encourage businesses to make personal information private, she said.

"Reactive models won’t work in the future," said Cavoukian. "Unless we adopt Privacy by Design now, in 10 years time we will not have any privacy."

Cavoukian has been trumpeting her Privacy by Design agenda to privacy commissioners all over the world. The concept takes a radical look at the way privacy issues are governed and entices companies to make the safeguarding of personal information the standard in every new product, technology or service they release. In order to mine people’s personal data, a company must approach each individual, ask them for access to their personal information and explain exactly what the information is going to be used for.

"It’s your information. You should be able to decide what happens to it," Cavoukian said. "Privacy must become the default."

Cavoukian’s call comes at a time when companies such as Facebook and Google have been forced to take long, hard looks at the way they handle personal data.

Facebook has been under the microscope of privacy advocates around the world who have criticized the company for sharing too much of the personal information of members with marketing firms.

Google was caught collecting private Wi-Fi data in 30 countries in June. Google claims the data collection was unintentional. The company has also been forced repeatedly to defend its StreetView mapping service, which many have complained is too invasive.

Cavoukian said online privacy problems are only going to get worse if a hard stance isn’t taken by governments now. She said the introduction of the Smart Grid, which will see Smart Meters monitor the energy use of every home in Ontario by the end of the year, will open new avenues for questionable businesses to exploit people’s personal information.

"We have a large job to do," she said. "This is sort of a David versus Goliath thing."

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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