Despite the office of the privacy commissioner of Canada launching a number of probes into the privacy practices of well-known technology firms, the goal of the investigations is to not hamper the work of these companies.
"I, or my office, doesn't stand in the way of innovation," said Jennifer Stoddart, Canada's privacy commissioner, who spoke Tuesday at SC Congress Canada in Toronto. "On the contrary, we embrace it. [But we believe that] personal information is a valuable asset that deserves to be treated with respect."
During her keynote, Stoddart summarized a number of investigations initiated by her office into how firms such as Google and Facebook are collecting, accessing, processing and sharing the personal information of users.
"These questions have not been completely answered, but here in Canada, we're trying to provide some," she said to a packed audience.
Her efforts have not just focused on the giants of the search and social networking worlds.
Stoddart's office also is looking into privacy concerns around full-body scanners used in airports to screen passengers, as well as ways the Canadian government is disposing of surplus computers.
In addition, she discussed efforts to pass Bill C-28, an anti-spam proposal that would offer complementary amendments to The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and that would provide Stoddart's office with the power to control which cases it investigates. Bill C-29, meanwhile, would amend PIPEDA to force private firms that have been breached to notify victims.
The privacy commissioner's office has served as a model for other nations, she said. The hope is that all organizations will put its principles into practice.
One audience member questioned Stoddart on how much of the burden falls on users instead of the regulators. Stoddart responded that her office encourages citizens to take personal accountability, and it has invested in public education and outreach to better inform people.