Billed rather ironically as ‘protection for Canadians when they surf the web and shop online,’ Bill S-4 (the Digital privacy Act) was introduced in the upper chamber on Tuesday, much to the alarm of privacy activists.
The Act will allow ISP to share their customers’ data with ‘any organization that is investigating a contractual breach or possible violation of any law. This applies to both past breaches or violations as well as potential future violations. Moreover, the disclosure occurs in secret without the knowledge of the affected person (who therefore cannot challenge the disclosure since they are not aware it is happening).’
Together with a removal of court oversight of copyright lawsuits, in practice this means that ISPs will be able to pass on customers’ data to copyright enforcement bodies without their permission and without their knowing about it, opening Canadians up to the kind of copyright trolling common in the US, where victims are often fined tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for illegally downloading songs and movies, .
David Christopher, communications manager for internet rights outfit OpenMedia warned,
‘It also opens the door to telecom firms handing our private data to U.S.-style copyright trolls, without any court order or judicial oversight. Worst of all, we’d never know when we’d been a victim of these privacy breaches as the disclosures would be kept secret.’
Until now Canadians have been protected by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which meant that companies could only hand their users’ data to government and police, and even then only under a limited set of circumstances (such as investigating a crime.
Canadian internet users can protect their internet surfing and downloading habits from scrutiny by ISPs using a VPN service, although thanks to other recent changes in Canadian law, it is probably a good idea to choose an overseas VPN provider.