New Canadian privacy commissioner comes under fire

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Canada's federal privacy commissioner has been replaced in a move that has sparked criticism from activists, academics and political leaders.

Stepping into the position is Daniel Thierren, formerly assistant deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice, reported Canada's Toronto Star. He has advised both the RCMP (Canada's federal police force) and the CSIS spy agency.

Thierren, who was chosen from a shortlist by the Treasury Board president, has worked his entire life in government and is familiar with data monitoring programs that have been criticised by privacy advocates.

"It should be made clear what steps can and will be taken in the event that any conflicts arise as a result of former positions held by an individual in the post of Privacy Commissioner," said the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in response to Thierren's nomination. "To the extent any past work might conflict with or hinder the ability of the Privacy Commissioner to fulfill his/her role, this must be addressed."

A subsequent letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, signed by a variety of academics and civil liberties groups, said that Thierren "lacks the immediate expertise to tackle Canada's long list of privacy challenges."

Nevertheless, Thierren had some surprises up his sleeve. In confirmation hearings at the house and Senate in early June, he supported calls for a Parliamentary oversight committee to oversee data monitoring by the government. He also criticised Bill C 13, which bundles new surveillance powers for law enforcement in with cyber bullying measures. Concerns over that bill are "very legitimate," he said, adding that the two things should be stripped into separate legislation.

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