Research program will focus on relationship of technology and privacy

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Wednesday, September 1, 2004

OTTOWA, Ontario - Even though Canada’s privacy law went into effect January 1, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has launched a research program that will study the effects of technology and privacy - with a section specifically focusing on video surveillance, radio frequency identification and biometrics, among other commonly used security technologies.

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has already established guidelines for the use of video surveillance cameras and some may look at the research program as a way for the office to set additional rules for emerging technologies. Current policies range from notifying client’s of their privacy rights to visually warning people that they are going to enter a CCTV surveillance area.

But according to the office of the commissioner, the drive behind the program is staying on top of innovative technology.

“We as an office have an obligation to have a better understanding of the implications of technology on our privacy rights,” said Florence Nguyen, a spokesperson with the commissioner’s office.

Canada’s privacy act was launched to protect citizens’ personal information from misuse. Nguyen said the new program is preventative.

“The office needs to develop and extend its research capacity,” Nguyen said. “We would like to benefit from these areas related to surveillance technologies.”

Tracy Cannata, the executive director of CANASA, said she has not heard of any specific cases of technology improperly invading privacy rights since the act became effective eight months ago, but she has seen heightened awareness among the industry.

“What we do see is raised awareness to implement policies,” Cannata said.

Cannata said CANASA was deeply involved in making sure the policy did not infringe on the necessary technologies required in the security industry.

”We were very concerned as an industry,” she said also noting that the technologies in place today are becoming commonplace in society. “The reality is that CCTV is a way of life today,” she said.

Nguyen said the privacy office does not want to stop the integration of technology, but wants to confirm that pieces are used within certain guidelines.

“We always said we were not opposed to technology,” she said.

“It’s not the technology. It’s how it is used.”