The last few months have seen intensified concerns about the protection of privacy in the context of national security activities. In order to contribute to an informed, constructive debate to address these concerns, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has produced this report in the hope of assisting Parliament in addressing the question as to whether Canada still has proper privacy protection in the context of national security.
The right to privacy is fundamental in Canada. It is central to personal integrity and essential to a free and democratic society. Recent events have brought to light new privacy risks within the current political and technological framework of intelligence activities. The evolution of security threats to open, democratic states – combined with the speed and power of technical surveillance practices and the desire to prevent or prepare for attacks of violence – create a pressing issue for democratic states to confront. As public concerns mount with regard to privacy protection in this context, the purpose of this report is to offer concrete recommendations and further a reasonable, constructive public debate.
The recommendations set out in the Privacy Commissioner’s report certainly represent a good menu for action by the executive and legislative branches of government in upgrading the safeguards and privacy protections that Canadians deserve. In my view, an appropriately cleared select parliamentary committee (along the lines of the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee) should also be added to the monitoring mechanisms. In addition, the prevailing pattern of post-facto review of operations should be supplemented by selected prior compliance assessments when new programs or operations are being considered which might cross statutory “red lines.”