The Future of Privacy: Q&A with Commissioner Elizabeth Denham

October 19th, 2015

Q1: What are the rules surrounding how Canadian governments use personal data?

From @Camosun College students

A1: Canada has provincial and federal privacy laws that set out rules government must follow when using personal data. Under BC laws, government must have clear legal authority to collect personal information. If BC law explicitly prescribes collection or it is necessary for a government program, then citizen data can be collected. But government can only use your information for the same purpose for which it was collected. No repurposing.

Q2: Do you think underage social media users should have mandatory high privacy settings established upon signing up?

Tweet from @RohanHenson

A2: Yes! Privacy protective settings should be the default for everyone, but especially kids online.

Q3: Should law enforcement be required to get a warrant before accessing my emails and texts?

From @DigitalDesksYYJ

A3: Yes, in most cases. Warrantless searches only in exigent circumstances.

Q4: What happens when Canadian data travels on an American network or is saved on an American server?

From @Camosun College students

A4: If Canadian data is captured on US networks, it is subject to US law. More than a decade ago BC legislators concerned about the Patriot Act passed laws to protect BC data. BC public bodies must ensure personal information is stored and accessed inside Canada in most circumstances. This is what protects BC citizens’ data from access by foreign law enforcement agencies.

Q5: Can my information be sold for commercial use?

Email from Elizabeth

A5: BC privacy law prevents public bodies from selling personal information for commercial purposes, but the rules differ for private sector. Businesses need consent to collect, use, or share your personal information. That includes disclosing or selling the information to a third party, but consent is not a silver bullet. Collection and use must be reasonable in the circumstances to be lawful.

Q6: Do you think people should be able to get notifications of who is looking at your Facebook profile?

Tweeted from @VickySjohall

A6: I’m on Facebook, and to be honest, I don’t think I want to know! Seems kind of creepy. Platforms like Linkedin have this feature, but users can opt-out.

Q7: Where do you see the future of drones heading in terms of privacy?

From @Camosun College students

A7: Drones can collect personal data surreptitiously. There are privacy considerations that must be respected by drone “pilots.” This includes police, community safety organizations, commercial actors and hobbyists. I predict that we will see increased drone regulation for safety, but also for privacy reasons.

Q8: Does BC’s privacy law constrain what the federal government can do under C-51?

From : @Camosun Students and @mykiwikid77

A8: Bill C-51 concerns what federal agencies do (i.e. information sharing.) As the Commissioner, I do not have jurisdiction over federal agencies e.g. RCMP or CSIS, but I am deeply concerned about the impact of Bill C-51 on Canadians’ privacy rights. I’ve joined my Canadian colleagues in calling for robust independent oversight of national security agencies. The answer is transparency, and shining a light on these programs. Citizens want to know.

Q9: If you could provide one tip to securing your privacy online, what would it be?

Email from Adam

A9: Wow only one tip? It would have to be, think before you post! The Internet seldom forgets.


World Class speakers prepare you for the Future of Privacy at the Privacy and Access 20/20 Conference 

This conference will have a broad appeal to individuals in the public, private and non-profit sectors. The agenda will offer thought-provoking, intellectual content from experts in industry, government, and civil society. It will showcase B.C. talent, but also include national and international thought leaders.

To review the agenda, see conference speakers, and register, visit:

Elizabeth Denham - Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia

Since her appointment as British Columbia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner in May 2010, Elizabeth Denham has raised the profile of information rights, promoted transparency in government and adopted a proactive approach to the enforcement of access and privacy laws in B.C. Promoting privacy rights is her top priority. Commissioner Denham has led investigations into several high-profile […]