Protecting Privacy in a Time of Fear. (ANTI-TERRORISM)
A challenge for all Canadians is to ensure that the fundamental human right, and fundamental Canadian value, of privacy does not fall victim to a climate of fear and uncertainty. Speech to the 19th Annual Finance and Treasury Management Conference, Toronto, October 1, 2001.
As treasury professionals, you are key decision-makers in business. You have a keen interest in the issues that touch our society. And you are among the opinion leaders in your various communities.
It is in that context that I'm especially pleased to talk with you today, at a particularly important moment for our Canadian society.
I guess I had a certain prescience when I told your organization, quite some time ago, that I wanted my topic to be "The New Era of Privacy Protection." But I must admit that it was quite accidental.
At the time, I wanted to talk about the momentous step forward -- for individuals and for businesses -- that Canada has taken with the implementation of our new private sector privacy legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. I will still touch on that, at least briefly.
But now, since the tragic events of September 11, we're in a new era of privacy protection for very different -- but even more crucial -- reasons. The challenge now for me as privacy commissioner, and indeed for all Canadians, is to ensure that the fundamental human right, and fundamental Canadian value, of privacy does not fall victim to a climate of fear and uncertainty that may well intensify as events unfold in the weeks and months ahead.
I'm confident that this ultimately won't happen, because I believe that an informed Canadian public will not want it or allow it. But to ensure that it doesn't happen we must all be very clearly aware of what is at stake and what the real considerations are.
Privacy, as I have said, is a fundamental human right, recognized as such by the United Nations. But it is not only an individual right -- it's also a shared value, a social, public good. In the words of Justice Laforest of the Supreme Court of Canada, privacy is "at the heart of liberty in a modern state."
That's because there can be no real freedom without privacy. If at any given moment someone -- and particularly agents of the state -- may be metaphorically or quite literally looking over our shoulder, we are not truly free.
If we have to weigh every action, every statement, every human contact, wondering who might find out about it, make a record of it, judge it, misconstrue or somehow use it to our detriment, we are not truly free.
Many have suggested, in fact, that privacy is the right from which all others flow--freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of choice, any freedom you can name.
That's why lack of real privacy is a distinguishing characteristic of so many totalitarian societies. And it's why our society as a whole has a stake in the preservation of privacy. We cannot continue to have a free, open and democratic society unless the right to privacy is respected -- it's as simple as that.
In recognition of this, our Parliament two decades ago created the position of Privacy Commissioner of Canada--an independent officer of Parliament whose responsibility is not only to oversee Canadian privacy law, but also to serve as the champion of the privacy rights of all Canadians.
For the first year of my term, this has been a very gratifying job. At a time when the importance of privacy in our lives was increasingly being recognized --- in fact, I believe that privacy will be the defining issue of this new decade -- I have been telling people how legal protections for privacy rights are being enhanced. And I've been emphasizing to business audiences like this one why good privacy is good business.
So it's been a good news message, telling people what they are generally glad to hear. …