[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, April 30, 1996
The Chair: I call this meeting to order.
I'm really very thrilled and pleased that we have today the beginning of round tables, three round tables at the outset, to examine the impact of new information and communications technology on human rights.
This is an issue of great complexity. It touches many aspects of everyone's lives in our society. I know with the help of the experts who will be with us at the three round tables we have planned, we will be in a better position to determine when we will start to examine in depth the ramifications of the implications of new technology on the laws, the legislators and the human rights legislation itself.
At the very outset, I want to thank you for coming to help today in particular to flag the new technologies around privacy, the questions of workers' rights, the questions of equal access for the disabled, some of the aspects of biotechnology, personal information, the issues around discrimination, the whole question of the use of the new Internet and other aspects of new technology, the propagation of hate, of racism, of anti-Semitism, of pornography.
Those are issues some people feel we should address. Some people have a very laissez-faire approach. What should be the controls? Are there the abilities in today's world to effect controls? What codes of fair practice should we be meeting?
I would suggest to you that the breadth of the reach this committee will be able to undertake will flow from the wise counsel and advice of those of you who are going to be joining us over the next three sessions.
The first two will deal particularly with the areas I've just outlined. I believe the third will look at questions of the technological approach to these issues. I for one have been looking and have been very interested in the whole field of reproductive technologies, about which, as you well know, this government is presently in receipt of a report.
Without further ado, I'd like to welcome our guests. I'd like to ask them if they would be good enough to introduce themselves. We will all introduce ourselves as this is not the normal process of a standing committee in formal session. This is an informal session per se.
Following that, I would appreciate hearing from you for three to five minutes. I know that's a minuscule amount of time to share the breadth of your information. But then perhaps the members, starting with our member from the Bloc Québécois, would start to ask questions. We'll have a very informal exchange model if that suits you.
Ann Cavoukian, would you be good enough to start. We'll then continue with the other guests and we'll know who you are.
Dr. Ann Cavoukian (Assistant Commissioner of Privacy, Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario): Thank you. My name is Ann Cavoukian. I am the assistant commissioner of privacy for the Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario.
Dr. Arthur Cordell (Special Adviser, Long Range Planning and Analysis, Spectrum Information Technologies and Telecommunications Sector, Department of Industry): My name is Arthur Cordell. I am special adviser on information technology policy with the federal government.
Ms Jutta Treviranus (Manager, Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, Information Commons, University of Toronto): My name is Jutta Treviranus. I am the manager of the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre at the Information Commons, University of Toronto.
Mr. Pierre MacKay (Professor, Département des sciences juridiques, Université du Québec à Montréal): My name is Pierre MacKay and I am a professor in the Department of Legal Sciences at the Université du Québec à Montréal and a member of a research group called the Centre de recherche sur le droit, les sciences et la société.
Mr. Ken McVay (Director, The Nizkor Project): I am Ken McVay, director of the Nizkor Project, from Vancouver Island. I deal with hate speech and Holocaust denial on the Internet.
The Chair: That's fine. Thank you very much.
Ann, would you be good enough to share some thoughts informally or formally, as you wish, over the next three to five minutes. Then perhaps, Arthur...I should really be using your formal names. I am a very informal person. Dr. Cordell, would you follow on.
Dr. Cavoukian: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.
We view privacy as being a fundamental human right. This is a view held of privacy especially in the European countries, and it's one we share here in Canada. If you would indulge me, I want to read you a very brief quote since this is an informal gathering. It's from The Economist. I thought it would set the stage today:
The threat to privacy that comes from the new information technologies comes from the fact that it permits data information that is gathered by various organizations for a variety of different purposes to be linked in ways that were never possible before.
You now have telecommunications networks. You've all heard of the information highway. We'll be speaking about the Internet. These networks facilitate the linkage of information that in the past, while it was still collected, was kept in diverse pockets, databases here and there. The information tended to be fragmented. The ease with which to link this information to do such things as develop detailed personal profiles about you was lacking in the past.
That has all changed. It is extremely easy to link diverse pieces of personal information about you and me, our purchasing habits, our reading preferences, our likes, our dislikes, our activities. Therein lies one of the largest threats to privacy. The linkage of such information electronically and the uses of that information in ways that were never contemplated at the time it was collected - that's a huge threat.
It removes from your control your ability to decide how you want your personal information used. Once you lose that control, uses of it that are contrary to your interests are made and will be made on an increasing basis. If you have a choice in the matter, everything is transformed.
I don't want to take up too much time at this point. I want to end by just saying that the technologies I've just been describing that permit this type of data linkage to take place can be called tracking technologies, technologies that facilitate surveillance. They rest upon one thing. They positively identify you as the data subject.
Your identity is linked with the information that is gathered about you - what you bought, what you drink, where you travelled, what you read, what magazines you've subscribed to and what organizations you belong to. It's all based on the linkage of identity with this information. Once you have the linkage removed, the identity removed, the debate is transformed.
Later, if we have a few moments, I want to talk to you about another type of emerging technology, which is very privacy protective. We call them privacy enhancing technologies. They render anonymous the identity of the individual but still permit transactions to take place.
If you think of cash and how cash permits you to engage in transactions without leaving a digital trail behind you, there is no indication of what you bought or where you travelled or what you did. If you use that analogy, technologies of privacy, which we'll explore later if we have time, will permit the same thing to take place electronically.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: That was fascinating. Now I know why we should be a cash society, maybe.
Dr. Cordell, please.
Dr. Cordell: Thank you very much. It's an honour to be invited here to help you. I have some brief notes and I'll run quickly through them.
We're talking about the way in which information technology is changing the world of work. Of course, why is this topic so critical? Work is part of the social glue that binds us together as a nation and in our communities as well. Work is the vehicle that traditionally distributes income. It provides opportunity for contributing and feeling needed. Work structures our time and provides a positive sense of self-esteem.
Thus any change to our employment patterns has severe repercussions throughout all aspects of society. By looking at problem areas now, we may be better able to prepare Canadians for the turbulent times of today and tomorrow and ensure a strong and healthy society.
The information society or the new economy or information technology, however we talk about it, is bringing with it new conditions and realities that we must face. Given the time constraints, I'll run over them in point form.
The new realities include the fact that we are going through a great transformation, which is creating winners and losers. Among the winners and losers are industries. Whole industries are growing up; other industries are shrinking. Individuals are winning and losing too, and communities as well.
There's a book out called The ``Winner Take All'' Society. We're seeing that as well. We're seeing the superstars, the super software creators. But there are also some who are losing and losing big too - those people who are displaced, those communities that are shut down.
Information technology is a profoundly transformative technology because it's energy saving, it's capital saving and it's labour saving. Without getting into the technological side of it, it changes the basic production function of the economy. That means it changes everything.
Information technology replaces people in a great number of functions. We all thought the service sector would be the catch-all sector to create jobs for people, but the service sector itself is a prime target for new technologies automation. Go to any bank, any supermarket; we all know the story.
Information technology is changing the way we live, learn and govern society. We have smart houses, tele-education, and we are always talking about streamlining government. All this implies radical change of jobs and turbulence in the job market.
Because information and communication technologies are transformative, we have profound social and cultural transformation. It shows up everywhere. Satellite broadcast means that whatever's going on in the world, we know about it, everybody knows about it.
Personal planning and the ability to chart one's career with predictability has disappeared. When I was first starting out, I could somewhat forecast where I was going. Today's young people don't have that option. Today's careers are either shaky or they're obsolete. Tomorrow's careers are truly a guess. No one really knows what's coming along. So people really don't know how to prepare themselves.
We're moving from an economy of tangibles to one of intangibles. We're moving from an economy of hardware to one of software. Long-standing measures of wealth and well-being based on the old economy really don't guide us well in our policy-making.
The Chair: I'm sorry. What did you say, Dr. Cordell? I missed that. I'm listening so carefully. I don't want to miss a word from any of you.
Dr. Cordell: The policy indicators we use are based on the old economy, an economy of hardware, an economy of train carloading, ship loadings, rail cars. The new economy is a digital economy that really exists in global networks. We truly don't know whether things at the very basic level are getting better or worse in some fundamental way because we don't know how to measure them.
The themes of today are competitiveness, productivity, efficiency and re-engineering, all of this leading to a flexible workforce, all of this leading to the rise of the contingent workforce.
More and more globalization is taking place. Globalization takes place on its own, but it's also aided and abetted by information technology and global networks. So corporations produce offshore, they threaten to outsource their production offshore, and domestic labour is affected.
With information technology we find we can downsize corporations. Middle managers are no longer needed because middle managers were usually an information relay taking messages from the top, passing them to the bottom and passing information back. With automated corporations you can eliminate whole layers of management.
We seem to be heading towards a two-tier labour force of skilled and non-skilled, which is matched by bimodal distribution of incomes. This has grave threats for the middle class.
So I'll make five summary conclusions. Then we can talk later.
Career planning is almost impossible in these turbulent times. People are urged to accept the possibility of two, three or more careers during their working life. The other side of lifelong learning can be lifelong uncertainty, a lifetime of anxiety, of getting a job and keeping it.
Second, the threat of globalization means those with jobs are afraid they will lose what they have during the next wave of downsizing and outsourcing.
Third, we are seeing a coming apart of our social cohesion. Communities and nations are based on a set of expectations, and these appear to be fragmenting. With a collapse in personal planning, people no longer feel connected to the local workplace, to the local community.
Fourth, the potential or the apparent loss of the middle class presents a crisis for Canadians. With the possibility for upward mobility blocked, a frustrated and angry group of Canadians could behave in unpredictable ways and could act out some of their anger towards fellow Canadians.
Fifth, a social compact was created between employer and employee. Over the years this meant that if employees worked hard and contributed, this hard work would translate into a degree of job security and upward mobility in the workplace. This compact appears to have been destroyed. Firms downsize their labour force, move production offshore and reward the CEO as stock prices rise.
Sixth and finally, the death of the social compact further erodes the social cohesion that is necessary to build communities and nations and to promote a feeling of connectedness that is such a vital aspect of robust citizenship. Along the way, because people are being downsized and outsourcing is taking place, there's a shrinking tax base, which generates more uncertainty because universality is seen to be an expendable item and to be yesterday's story.
Anyhow, I hope this hasn't been too depressing, but this is the way I see things at the moment. I was asked to speak about the downside of this. There are a lot of upside and good stories.
The Chair: I hope you have some good stories for us as we have our exchange, because right now I feel I should take a valium or something. It's a very depressing view. No wonder there is some social unrest and there are cranky people out there.
The next person I believe we'd like to hear is
Mr. Pierre MacKay, please.
Mr. MacKay: Thank you for this invitation, Madam Chair. First, I would like to define very briefly the new technologies, looking at the positive side of the promises of these new technologies.
Secondly, I would like to talk about the issues and dangers in general.
The new technologies are a very general concept within which one may include at least two major sectors: the new information and communications technologies, which were essentially discussed in the two previous contributions, and biotechnologies, that is, the technologies that include all the new genetics techniques and all the technologies of life and reproduction, which are substantial fields of development in themselves.
The two fields, biotechnology and the new information and communications technologies, are also interrelated in the flows of information that may circulate concerning individuals.
In the first place, the promises of the new information and communications technologies, which are confused with the Internet and information highway concepts, are technologies of the convergence of information and communications, and these have to be discussed.
Their promises are, of course, universal, instantaneous access irrespective of borders or distance to all information, whether it be in relation to culture, music, video, training, teaching or research; it extends to remote shopping and all the information traditionally accessible over other media.
This universal access is the counterpart of the possibilities for universal dissemination that these technologies offer at very, very low costs. For $20, $30 or $50 per month anyone can be a disseminator of information over the Internet.
Obviously, you will find there the reflection of society, from the best to the worst. It takes all sorts to make a world, they say. Well, you will find everything there, as a reflection of society. What is different is that access and dissemination are now universal.
The promise is that access to education and continuous training will be greatly improved, transformed and very substantially altered. One need only think of the access that these technologies can give to all regions, including the most remote ones, to all the major discoveries, all the great documents, all the great libraries, all the great images, etc., in real time and at the same time. One need only think of what this represents as a potential for these communities. It is very special.
In terms of the biotechnologies, I will mention only the mapping of the human chromosome set, which offers a glimpse of the absolutely unprecedented advances in our knowledge of human biology and which ultimately provides a foretaste of the considerable possibilities in the prevention and treatment of illnesses.
Obviously, there are dangers in these challenges. There are no changes that come without danger in society. These challenges I see in terms of individuals and society, and they are economic and cultural in nature.
With respect to individuals, Ms Cavoukian was right to say that the protection of privacy was the central issue. I think that is completely correct. Through the linking of information with computers, the pooling of databanks, and cross-referencing via universal identifiers, whether social insurance numbers or other universal identifying codes, it has been possible for quite some time now to establish the profiles which she discussed. The danger is that this information will be used for purposes completely different from and sometimes quite contrary to the interests of the individual.
Unfortunately, there is a difference between the federal or provincial statutes, which in theory protect these usages relatively well, and the practices, which are extremely difficult to control. Thus, there is a difference between law and practice, and we will have to give some thought to this issue.
This is where a connection can be made with genetic information or genetic information files. If we add genetic information on individuals to files such as that, we not only have information on people's opinions but we have as well substantial information about their state of health and susceptibility to all sorts of risks. This has some major consequences on their insurability, employability, etc. These are the major issues for individuals with respect to these new technologies.
In fact, there are two major issues, but the principal one, in my opinion, is the danger of the creation of a two-speed society, in which some people will not have access to the technologies while others have all the access they need.
This access is not only physical. We will be told that the public libraries, colleges and universities are places in which people can consult these data banks. Not everyone needs to have a computer in his home, etc. This is probably something that is coming, but the danger is above all in what I call ``technological illiteracy".
The Chair: I'm sorry, but you have described me, Mr. MacKay.
Some voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. MacKay: Technological illiteracy makes it impossible to use these technologies and the individual is then nothing but a subject of information. He or she has no direct access or no access at all. This technological illiteracy is as great a threat to a society as traditional illiteracy.
People who can neither read nor write in our society present, economically and socially, a major problem that will increase and have much greater impact on technologies, even if the technologies are increasingly easy to use. There is still a feeling that there is a very sharp cleavage. We feel it among students, even among those entering university.
I come back to society. There is a second issue which, to my way of thinking, is a real one politically, although it is not the major issue. It is what has been referred to as the dissemination of information of an illicit nature over the networks hate propaganda or any other kind of so-called illicit information to which one might be opposed.
However, freedom of expression, which is a fundamental value, should, beyond certain limits, be restrained as little as possible, inasmuch as in reality, it seems to me, it is through political debate and the exchange of ideas, rather than censorship, that we can demonstrate the falseness or defamatory character of such information. But that is a personal position.
As to the economic aspects, I think that Mr. Cordell correctly alluded to the implications on the labour market. So I will not say much about that.
In the information age, businesses no longer have borders. The processing of information, which becomes the heart of the business, can be done from a distance. We now see manufacturing firms doing their designing in Italy, their management in the United States and their production in Asia. Firms are completely dispersed and without borders, and we have to find in Canada the people who have the necessary training and preparation to assume these tasks in businesses of that nature. I think this is very important.
Finally, on the cultural plane, the domination of the cultural industries, with open borders, threatens culture even more strongly perhaps than all the others.
The Chair: There are pros and cons to everything. Thank you very much, Professor.Mr. Ken McVay.
Mr. McVay: Good morning. I have a statement from John Barlow, who's well known on the net. I'll read it to you later, but now I'd like to read part of the preface to it. John Barlow is one of the co-founders of the Electronic Freedom Foundation and is one of the people who often repeats the remark that information wants to be free. I happen to agree with him.
In the preface to this statement he is talking about the telecom format being signed in the United States about a month ago. He says:
Something that has already been pointed out but legislators everywhere need to remember is that the Internet is borderless. This statement makes that case more eloquently than I will, but I'll hold it until afterwards.
Because it's borderless you have to recognize that from my perspective as an Internet actor or person, you have absolutely no jurisdiction over what I say, when I say it, or how I say it. If you make it difficult for me to say certain things in Canada, I will do what Mr. Zundel did and move my computer to California and continue saying them - or to Iraq or South Africa. It doesn't matter to me where the computer is, although it does matter with respect to national legislation.
One thing that I think is important with regard to hate speech is that hate speech is something the media has played up, much as it has the issue of pornography on the net. The last government report that I saw - I believe it was for Industry, Trade and Commerce - on the information superhighway made the point that 95% of the so-called pornography on the Internet is legal in Canada. We don't have a pornography problem on the Internet, thank you very much, so I'd rather you didn't worry about it.
In that respect we also don't have a problem with hate speech, although it's undeniably there. Hate speech on the media sells soap, but the reality is - and I have tunnel vision; this is all I deal with because I don't see all the other stuff - that there are about 100 active racists on the net. That includes people like Ernst Zundel and Winnipeg's Joe Lockhart, a fellow in this town called Les Griswold, who represents the National Alliance. It's 100 people. The last estimate I saw for the total number of people using the Internet was at the Internet show in Toronto last month - 75 million.
Whether you believe there are 30 million people or 75 million on the Internet, the reality is that less than 100 of them are actively engaged in promulgating hatred. There are 100 or 200 among us who are actively engaged in refuting their efforts, but all of that traffic - the hate speech and those like me who deal with it - probably represents less than one one-thousandth of 1% of the total traffic on the Internet. I would advise you to give serious thought to whether or not you want to get hung up in dealing with an issue that can be dealt with more successfully in other ways.
In an earlier report, Industry, Trade and Commerce pointed out that in all probability we don't need any new legislation. I am already constrained by laws dealing with libel and slander and the things I can say on the Internet.
The Chair: Mr. McVay, I get your point, but is there a way to identify how many people stop to read either your 100 counter-arguments or the 100 promoters of hate and all the other nasty stuff we don't like? Can you count the number of stops or what number of those 75 million might be looking at this and/or how much time they stop to look at it? I wish you'd address that.
Mr. McVay: Not with great precision, but we can provide some clues.
There are two areas on the Internet where I am active. There are three areas where hate speech is active. One area is what we call Usenet. These are topical discussion groups.
As the technology changes and becomes more graphically oriented, Usenet is slowly disappearing, but the dinosaurs among us prefer it because it's interactive. We get to argue back and forth. We get to discuss things, as we are here.
There are 16,000 topical discussion areas in Usenet. These are called news groups. We only work within five or six or seven of them. One net deals with Holocaust denial. Statistically, we know that roughly 30,000 people at one time or another have popped in to take a look at what's going on. How many of them stick around or the depth of their participation is unknown. There's really no way we can judge that.
On the other hand, on the World Wide Web, where we have very accurate logs.... On my system, for instance, we know exactly how many people come to retrieve information. We know where they are coming from. We don't necessarily know who they are - we don't even want to know who they are - but we know where they're coming from, whether it's France or Canada or any place like that, and we know which documents they are retrieving.
Last month, in March 1996, my site delivered 150,000 documents dealing with fascism and the Holocaust. Contrast that with 3,000 documents a year ago June, and you can see that there is a lot of interest in people who want to learn about the militias in the United States, about the history of hate speech in law in Canada - my system offers the Supreme Court judgments with Zundel and Keegstra - because a lot of people want to see that stuff.
Those are the kinds of numbers we have that give us a rough guide. There's no way to tell if certain.... Even with 150,000 documents, which from my perspective is an astounding level of growth, out of 75 million people it is nothing. It's just a tiny bit of the traffic.
I'll leave this part of it by telling you that and by repeating my earlier comment that information wants to be free. I have some material for you, which I'll allude to later. Anyone who wants copies of it can pick it up after the meeting.
The Chair: Thank you.
Jutta Treviranus, please.
Ms Treviranus: I want to address the impact of information technology on people with disabilities. I have good news, bad news and some cautions.
Information technology is in its infancy, but it's poised for very rapid development and application across all aspects of our lives, including education, employment and recreation. As with other technologies, as it's introduced it will first supplement and then supplant to varying degrees the other ways of obtaining information or carrying out transactions. As this occurs it will bring new efficiencies to those who can use these new technologies and services, but put those who cannot at a greater disadvantage. For people with disabilities, as this occurs it will bring equal access to the new technologies required for anyone who is to have equal opportunities in education, employment and access to public information services.
New technologies can either be a potential new tool and equalizer for people or they can be a major new barrier. Why can these new technologies be a tool or an equalizer for people who have disabilities? The main reason is that the information and services we access through these technologies are computer-mediated, and the computer is a great translator of information. It translates the input and the output.
Someone who doesn't control a computer in the same way as we do - through a keyboard - can use an alternate method of controlling the computer - lifting an eyelid, making a vocalization, moving a foot - and the computer will translate that into the equivalent of typing on a keyboard. For someone who cannot sense the information a computer is providing in the same way as everyone else can - someone who cannot read a display - the computer can translate that into voice output or possibly into a refreshable Braille display.
The deciding factor as to whether the new technologies are going to have a positive or negative effect is access, and I want to talk about four factors that affect access.
The first of these is that we need to take a proactive stance. Access needs to be considered in the development of these new technologies right from the beginning. It must be designed right into the technologies because the technologies are developing so rapidly that access development will never catch up if we don't develop it now. Also, the cost of doing it later will be much greater and more disruptive than if it is done in the initial implementation.
Another argument for being proactive is that the moneys and resources available to develop access alternatives are minuscule when they're compared to the resources devoted to development of these new technologies.
Another argument is that building access into the technologies has proven to be beneficial to all individuals, not just individuals who have disabilities, and this is called the curb cut advantage. An example of this is the curb cut that was initially designed for people who require wheelchair access to the sidewalk but is used by people who use roller blades, baby carriages, etc. Similar effects are seen with captioning, which is used by someone who needs to turn down the TV volume but still wants to follow a program while they're talking on the phone.
An example on the Internet is alternative text tags for images, which are partially put there for people who cannot see the images as a textual description of the image on the web site. These are used by people who want to do a textual search for images on the web.
So taking a proactive stance is not only beneficial to people with disabilities, it's also required, or we will never catch up.
The second factor is standards. If technology development does not follow certain standards, an access solution must be developed for each and every technology that emerges. Individuals with disabilities must purchase alternative access systems for every technology they encounter in their daily lives, and this is impossible financially and is a very unfeasible solution.
Again, the standards also benefit all users and the industry as a whole, and there are standards that have been developed. There are both positive and negative standards, some that do take people with disabilities into account and some that don't. Examples of ones that are inclusive include things such as HTML, SGML, etc. Ones that do not are things like the PDS standard, which presents material on the web only as pictures and does not take into account people who cannot see pictures.
The third factor is that the new technologies must be developed with flexible control and display methods. from the start. The technologies must be controllable not just through a single interface, such as a keyboard or a mouse or a Nintendo controller or a Sega controller, but we must be able to plug into them any number of access methods. At the other end, the information on these technologies must be viewed not only through visual displays, but there must also be the ability to plug in something that will speak out the information, that will possibly present it in tactile form, or that will provide an interface for a display that we haven't even thought of or developed yet.
This also benefits all users. You can think of the executive who wants to access her e-mail from home, the car and the office. At home she may have a very low band with a modem and need to juggle the baby while responding to a message and therefore require it in textual form. In the car she may wish to speak to her computer and listen to it talk back, and at the office she may want the full graphic representation. So this flexibility not only benefits people with disabilities but also all users.
The fourth point I want to make is that we must ensure that the moneys and resources are available for active development. It's just not enough to have these standards there, it's not enough to have the flexibility, but the access system development industry requires the support to develop the access systems that will be plugged into those flexible interfaces.
This can be done in several ways: through government funding, through legislation that compels industry to develop and include access, through government partnerships with industry to develop these types of access systems, and through the promotion of accessible products, such as through a seal of approval.
Just to conclude, I want to paraphrase Gregg Vanderheiden when he states that the impact of new technologies on people with disabilities will be substantial. Whether it's substantially positive or negative depends upon some of the steps that we take now.
The Chair: Thank you very much. All five of these presentations open the door to recognition of the fact that our committee has undertaken a very big bite. I hope we're able to digest this incredible amount of information we've just received today. If you add to that two more round tables, I hope we meet some of the expectations or some enlightened approach after listening to your very well-thought-out observations and experience.
Mr. Paré (Louis-Hébert): To console you, I want to assure you there are at least two technological illiterates in the room.
The Chair: So much the better. Thank you.
Mr. Paré: My comment will perhaps reflect my ignorance, but I am trying to struggle against that ignorance and not to refuse progress.
However, what Mr. Cordell says affects me deeply and I am extremely concerned about the things that he put forward.
I would like to base that on some realities. For a number of years there has been a lot of talk about globalization and competitiveness. It will be recalled that, initially, when we signed the NAFTA treaty, it was allegedly to enable Mexico to catch up with us. But one might wonder if it isn't exactly the contrary that is now happening. Given competitiveness and the fact that borders no longer exist, even businesses here are obliged to apply some Third World rules. We refuse to intervene. As we have seen, the International Labour Organization, which was supposed to intervene in terms of the environment and social clauses, is being more and more discreet about those issues. At their recent meeting, the Finance ministers of the OECD countries were likewise almost silent on those issues.
We know, on the other hand, that electronic data processing, of which I am totally ignorant, allows financial speculation as never before. We know that every day there is speculation involving 1,000 billion dollars. Electronic data processing and communications are now able to bring about a fall in the currency, as we saw in Mexico with the peso crisis. Of course, there were elements of poor management, but computerization accentuates these problems.
Is it correct to let a technology take over the world and apply its own rules? Do politicians, who are elected by people, still have their input in this?
Shouldn't we, before it is too late« I am trying not to oppose the principle of Mr. McVay, who says information should be free. I can agree that information should be free, but isn't there some means, without limiting the content of the information or the access to the information, to domesticate this whole big issue before the poorest become poorer and the richest become richer, before the developing countries regress? The developing countries once held 5 of 6% of the market. They now account for no more than 1%.
It seems to me that we have some human and somewhat philosophical responsibilities in this matter, which I am describing somewhat awkwardly.
The Chair: This is extremely interesting. Any one of you could reply, but the question was certainly addressed to Mr. Cordell. Before I ask the witnesses to respond, other members might ask some questions about the manipulation of stocks, money, stock exchanges and the whole issue of the control of information.
Does anybody here want to say anything? Yes, Dianne.
Mrs. Brushett (Cumberland - Colchester): Thank you, Madam Chair. I enjoyed hearing the presentations this morning. I'm ordinarily at the finance committee and had to rush in late to sit in for another member, but it was very informative.
Having a scientific background myself, I know information of science has always known no borders. It has transversed the world, and that's how we've made great progress through higher technologies, scientific drugs, research and laser therapies, and so on. It is because science has not known borders. Now information is in a timeframe where it knows no borders. I see this as very positive. I was actually a little depressed with Dr. Cordell's remarks, and I know he was selected to give the downside rather than the upside.
The Chair: No, Dr. Cordell was selected because he's an expert in many areas, not because he was going to give either an upside or a downside. I think he was quite clear about the fact that there are pros and cons.
Mrs. Brushett: But he did address the downside. Was that not correct? You selected him to choose that point.
Dr. Cordell: Yes.
Mrs. Brushett: Maybe we should just take a few extra minutes and hear the upside, because I think there is tremendous opportunity here. Just looking at some of the numbers in places such as India, for example, in two decades we've made strides through information, technology, and literacy efforts. Two decades ago, 60% of the children were educated. Today, two decades later, we have some 80% of those children being educated. These kinds of strides we made are phenomenal, and a lot of it's through education. We've taken strident steps to put this information into our schools here in Canada. I think this is more positive than we may have quite heard here today.
Dr. Cavoukian: Is it possible to respond?
The Chair: Yes, Dr. Cavoukian.
Dr. Cavoukian: Just very briefly, I was going to say in defence of Dr. Cordell...but he needs no defence.
Dr. Cordell: I'm ready any time.
Dr. Cavoukian: Absolutely, the positive benefits of these technologies know no bounds, but if you track the media coverage of these technologies, generally what gets covered and reported repeatedly are the positive benefits - the techno-wizard aspect of these new developments. Very infrequently do you get exposed to the dark side of these technologies in terms of the potential harms and risks associated with them that could impact our lives enormously. Those of us who are in positions to hear about them hear on a very concrete level the enormous impact they have on people's lives already in unprecedented ways.
I just want to agree with you that the benefits are remarkable and we should give equal time to it - but equal time to both sides, because if people aren't armed with the awareness and the knowledge they need to protect themselves in those areas, that could affect them adversely. They're not going to be able to enjoy the benefits of the technology.
The Chair: Andy is next, and then I'm going to ask Dr. Cordell to speak.
Mr. Scott (Fredericton - York - Sunbury): I would like to say how much I enjoyed all the presentations. It's been very thought-provoking. We also have to recognize what our particular mandate here is - it's a committee responsible for human rights and the status of persons with disabilities. It's a big enough chunk to bite off without having to multiply it in the context of what it is very specifically we're intending to be engaged in and what the effect is on human rights, however you describe them.
I was particularly interested in what is an obvious debate or discussion around the notion of restrictions on the availability of information as against the intrusion into my life of the availability of that same information. I think as long as we keep our minds open to the discussion, we'll probably emerge from this more informed then we were going in - certainly I'm going to. I've already probably increased my understanding of this tenfold so far, because there are issues that come up.... As Mr. McVay put it so well, it's like people who don't know how to read telling people who do know how to read what to read.
I understand also that we have some obligation to try to interpret a world around us. This isn't the only thing I don't know very much about. We're still stuck with the job and consequently have to do what we believe to be the right thing by everybody, not just the people who are inside that world but also the people who are impacted outside that world who don't choose to be inside that world. It's choosing them very often.
The Chair: Andy, I think those remarks are very crucial to defining the parameters within which we're trying to have a discussion. I do believe, however, that Mr. Paré placed a specific question, but you've refocused on the linking of Dr. Cordell's remarks with Dr. McVay's observations.
I just want guidance here, because I know that Jean Augustine wants the floor and I know that Mr. Bernier wants the floor. Seeing as how this is not a strict ``five minutes for you, three minutes for me'' type of committee meeting, and with this being our first experience in a very complex field, I wonder if we could give the right to Dr. Cordell at least to respond to Monsieur Paré. Could we keep ourselves within this issue of the manipulation and impact of dollar flows on Third World countries and ourselves? We then could move to other, broader issues. Would that be okay with you?
Ms Augustine, is it all right if I -
Ms Augustine (Etobicoke - Lakeshore): That's fine. Proceed.
The Chair: All right?
Mr. Bernier (Mégantic - Compton - Stanstead): I understand very well. I will speak on something else.
The Chair: Thank you.
Dr. Cordell, please, and perhaps Mr. McVay.
Dr. Cordell: Thanks very much. Since we're all using quotes, I'll respond with a quote from my idol, Albert Einstein: ``The products of our minds should be a blessing and not a curse for mankind.'' Of course, he said that before the politically correct era. I believe that's true.
I'm a real technophile, and I think this technology is amazing. It's marvellous, and I'd like to see it introduced in an orderly way to benefit people as much as possible.
I think one of the things we can do, rather than always cheerleading - I think Ann is right in that we're always promoting the positive things and the wonderful aspects - is admit or acknowledge that this is a cross-cutting issue, that this information technology is cross-cutting all sectors of society and is affecting everything we do.
As responsible people and as a responsible government, I think we should look at a number of ``what if?'' scenarios. In other words, what if it comes in this way? What if it comes in that way? How do we react in each case? This is what we do in our personal lives. In other words, I have an insurance policy on my house. I have fire insurance, but if my house doesn't burn down, I don't cancel the insurance. I have car insurance. I have a number of insurance policies I take out that deal with the issue of how I respond to the question, ``What if this happens?''.
But our society isn't taking out any insurance policy on this technology. It's just saying this is great, this is good, let's implement it as fast as possible, and we'll see what happens. I think that's not terribly responsible. We should be thinking about the ``what ifs?'': What if there are some unintended consequences? What if some surprises happen? How do we deal with them? So I think a responsible government and a responsible people should be thinking about the ``what-ifs?''. I think we should plan and think about how we can implement this in an orderly way.
In more direct response to your question, I also worry about globalization. I worry that our domestic labour force, Canadian workers, are willy-nilly competing with offshore workers from areas where environmental standards are lower, where child labour is employed, where prison labour is employed. We're seeing downward harmonization and we're giving up many of the benefits for which workers fought long and hard.
What is economic development? Economic development means you're protected with a string.... You exist in a web of benefits - health care, health and safety on the job, universality - in a whole host of areas. But what we seem to be doing is competing and we seem to be accepting downward harmonization. We're saying, well, we have to be competitive, we have to globalize, have to compete with who knows what country. So rather than trying to achieve upward harmonization, rather than trying to lift the other countries, we're saying no, we're going to compete downward to the other countries.
I think this is a huge error. We should really be collaborating with our OECD partners, we should be collaborating with our G-7 trading partners to figure out ways in which to raise standards around the world rather than giving them all up.
Canadian workers worked very hard to get where they are, so I agree very much with your question.
The Chair: Mr. McVay.
Mr. McVay: I have only one brief comment. Again, I keep coming back to having to read all of this.
The Chair: I want to know if they should play in the money market or not without any constraint. That was really the bottom line in Mr. Paré's question.
Mr. McVay: The question is not whether or not you should contemplate doing that, but whether or not it would do you any good if you not only contemplated it but went ahead and did it. That's the issue, from my perspective, because I know nothing about financial manipulations but I do know how the Internet works. I know that if you tell a trader that he can't do something in a certain way and he wishes to get around your restraints, he's going to go ahead and he's going to do it outside of any legal constraints in this country. I don't know how you're going to deal with that. I don't envy you the task.
You have a problem in that, and you need to understand this: when you talk about regulating a net, not just in terms of hate speech but financially or any other way, you are dealing with 75 million hostile people who argue ferociously among themselves on a regular basis, but the minute government sticks its finger in the pie and says it's going to tell them how to do this, you now have 75 million people angry at you. And these are people who know how the system works and will do whatever it takes to get around your interference. So whatever you choose to do, you need to keep that in mind.
The Chair: I think Dr. Cavoukian and Dr. Cordell - and now I see Dr. MacKay - are responding to what you had to say.
Mr. MacKay, we have not yet heard from you in this regard.
Mr. MacKay: We have very few models in history for confronting a revolution of this scope. We could refer to an analogy, only one. It is the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg, in the early fifteenth century, which led to a revolution of equal importance.
We should think about this a little. What was the reaction? It created some movements - surprises did happen - and allowed the printing of Luther's Bible, a revolution in information. This led to putting books on the Index. It was especially important that certain people not read certain information.
In 1789, at the time the Bastille was stormed, up to 400 publishers, authors and booksellers were incarcerated there for offences of information and opinion. This is the kind of error we must avoid reproducing in the face of a new revolution in information. It is an old reflex to say to oneself that if you don't like the information that is being circulated, you have to silence it.
It is not the information that must be stopped, but the persons who are circulating it. We should be moving more towards a new set of values internationally, the value of this information. I will stop at that, but there are a great many other things.
The Chair: Listen, right now I'd rather have a bit of a free flow rather than directing the traffic. I could see Dr. Cordell's visceral reaction to Dr. McVay. I also see my two colleagues here who have not said a word - Jean, who has been very patient, and Russell, who has his hand up.
You see what you started, Messrs. Paré and Bernier.
Jean, you've had your hand up long enough. We'll then come back to our experts.
Ms Augustine: Thank you, Madam Chair. I must say how much I appreciate the initial comments and presentations by our witnesses.
I sit here very troubled by a number of things I have heard. Information wants to be free - that is a troublesome statement when I think about the ``what ifs?'', as mentioned.
In our own country we have to deal with literacy - literacy problems and the level of literacy in our midst - and the equitable access to new technology. I think about so many homes and families where there is no access in terms of the necessary equipment and the fact that this technology interferes or cross-cuts or impacts on every aspect of their lives.
I want to ask two questions. One, what do you think of the existing policies and the legislative framework we have right now that we think are safeguarding and promoting? Second, what are the main human rights questions you think, as a committee, we need to grapple with?
The Chair: Boy, Jean....
Ann - pardon me, but we're now going to first names, because the philosophy is so profound I can't think beyond that.
Dr. Cavoukian: If I could just address one question before responding specifically toMs Augustine's question, I think this touches upon the comments made by....
The Chair: The vice-chair of our committee, Andy Scott, along with Mr. Bernier.
Dr. Cavoukian: Mr. Scott expressed a view that is not uncommon, which is how can we balance what on the face of it may seem to be values that are at odds with the protection of certain types of information and the views conveyed by Mr. McVay in terms of information wanting to be free, no censorship? I would submit that these are not at odds, and I'd like to explain why I don't think they are at odds.
Censorship imposes restrictions on freedom of speech, on freedom of expression. Freedom of expression relates to choice, where what you wish to express you should be free to express. Privacy protection relating to personal information is very similar. You should be able to choose what information about you that you impart and express to the world and how it is used.
Both of these areas revolve around the concept of choice. Freedom of choice is critical. It hinges on the principles related to privacy and, I would suggest, freedom of expression as well. Censorship places restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of speech, which we oppose. But those restrictions don't bear upon the disclosure, the circulation of information - information about you, your personal information.
Again, it should be your wish to express that information and have that information circulate to those people to whom you choose to circulate it. That's why I don't think the censorship issues apply to that at all. It relates to free will.
Getting back to Ms Augustine's questions, what existing legislative frameworks there are and whether these policies and frameworks are sufficient, I would suggest that in Canada we have very sufficient protections in the public sector. We have the federal Privacy Act, which protects personal information in federal agencies, and we have in most provinces provincial legislation or some type of protections that protect information.
With the exception of Quebec, all of these regulations only apply to government, to the state, to the public sector. With the exception of Quebec, there are no protections that extend to the private sector. That is where you are going to encounter enormous problems from a privacy perspective.
The private sector is very interested in knowing about your personal habits. In the advertising and direct marketing industries, this is their raison d'être. They want your information, and they would like your information preferably without having to consult you. We don't like that, because it doesn't put you in the driver's seat.
Again, if you follow the principle that the decision to circulate information about you should be yours to make, you should have that choice. If you apply that principle, then it should be the same in the private sector as it is in the public sector, regardless.
The European Union has just passed a directive on data protection, which places these types of restrictions on who is permitted to use what information absent your consent. It's very important.
The Chair: It's like the negative optioning on buying or not the cable offer.
Dr. Cavoukian: Exactly, but it should be positive optioning instead of going to the negative choice model, which most people forget about or may not think to consider. Let me just describe negative optioning very briefly.
Let's say you fill out a form and give some information during the purchase of something. Should that company be able to use the information you give for other purposes that are unrelated to that transaction? If there is a negative option, there will be a little box on the form, an opt-out clause, and you could say, no, I don't want this information used for other purposes.
The problem is (a) there is often no box on the form, and (b) even if the box is there, you may not see it - the print can be very small - so it's very easy to forget, to accidentally not check this box.
The positive consent model, the positive option, is the contrary. It would tell you that the organization is not permitted to use your information for any purpose other than this transaction unless you specifically positively consent to giving them permission to do that. It's a subtle difference, but it's a very significant difference. So I would like to see private sector legislation in Canada regulating some of the uses of your information that, with the exception of Quebec, is lacking.
Your second question was on human rights. I'll just briefly refer to the fact that the OECD, a long time ago, in 1980, developed what is commonly referred to as a code of fair information practices. These are a set of principles that pertain to the management and use of personal information. Again, they're principles that confer rights upon individuals and responsibilities upon organizations and users of data.
It is this balance where if an organization wants information from you, they are being entrusted with your information. It is in their custody. They act as its custodians. They are obliged to safeguard that information and provide certain responsibilities, ensure to you certain basic things. For instance, you have a right of access to your information. You must be permitted to correct the information if there are errors noticed, and have others notified of that. You must be able to have your consent sought if secondary uses of your information, beyond the primary use for the data collection, are contemplated. You must have a say in subsequent disclosures of that information, and there should be reasonable security safeguards associated with the protection of that information.
The Chair: Dr. Cavoukian, I think this is fascinating. I think it answers a lot of the questions just placed before you. The question is, if you have it in ten different jurisdictions with ten different rules and regulations, doesn't it drive business crazy?
Dr. Cavoukian: Let me just say one thing before I stop. Let's talk about it in the context of the Internet, where the Internet knows no borders. It's everywhere. Even if you have it in 10 or 15 countries with different regulations, how is this going to play out?
There are two things. Laws are not going to be enough, but I like to have laws in place. Whether you can enforce the law or not - and I agree with Mr. McVay that on the Internet it's anybody's ball game - a law conveys a certain message to society. It conveys values that we honour. If you have a law that protects personal information, the message is that this information belongs to the individual, and if you, company A, want to use it contrary to their wishes, you are prohibited from doing that. It sends a very clear message.
Okay. Then we go on the Internet. You have this message, and nobody is going to listen to it. What do you do?
One of the things you have to do is supplement legislation with technological protections of the kind I referred to earlier, in terms of emerging technologies of privacy. These take the form of various types of encryption. Encryption is simply a method of coding information electronically such that when you transmit the information, it is transmitted not in readable, understandable text but in what is called cipher text. A cipher is a code. So if someone accidentally or intentionally intercepted the message, it would be unintelligible.
There are a variety of different methods of electronically, through technology, protecting information on the Internet and elsewhere in databases. We will have to supplement legislative protections with that. As Mr. McVay said, on the Internet is a body of people that, if you put in a regulation, will find a way around it. There's no question. I love the Internet, so don't think I'm opposed to this technology.
The Chair: I know Mr. McVay wants to answer something.
Mr. McVay, would you hold off for a moment? Both Mr. Bernier and Mr. MacLellan have something they'd like to say. You'll be the next intervener, if that's okay with you.
Mr. Bernier, it's your turn.
Mr. Bernier: I have a comment that will probably let Mr. MacKay come back to the question of privacy.
Personally, what I am more concerned with in regard to the relationship between human rights and the new technologies is precisely what Ms Cavoukian has just explained to us with much detail, namely, the protection of privacy.
Personally, at the risk of being diagnosed as paranoic, I have the impression that there are a great many people - but not everyone - who can obtain information on me, whether it is medical, financial or - Sometimes, when I look at my bank manager, I have the impression that he knows more about me than I do. This has to be the reality.
This whole issue of protection of privacy is an area we must look into very closely. It is the same thing medically. My friends use to say to me, jokingly: "Confidentiality concerning your medical records, they defined it as follows: everyone in the hospital knows about your file except you." Basically, I wonder whether this isn't the situation, more often than not.
Mr. MacKay said there were some provincial and federal laws in this field and that we were noticing a difference between the practice and what is desired or intended in such laws.
I would like to heard from you on this. It is somewhat along the lines of what Ms Cavoukian was saying. Are there laws that are effective in the area of protection of privacy? If not, what direction should we be taking in this area?
The Chair: Russell, do you want to pick up on that or do you want to add a new dimension? Do you want to wait for an answer from the guests?
Mr. MacLellan (Cape Breton - The Sydneys): I'll wait for an answer.
The Chair: Okay. Dr. MacKay.
Mr. MacKay: A number of questions are raised about the protection of personal information. What Ms Cavoukian stated is entirely correct. The extension of the protections to the private sector, both federally and provincially, could be harmonized in a relatively precise way around guidelines that already exist and that are applied both in the Quebec legislation and in the legislation of the federal government and other provinces in relation to the public sector, and at the level of the international and European organizations.
The principles are relatively well known. The issue is whether to extend these protections to the private sector. The federal government may have a ripple effect on all the other jurisdictions. This ripple effect could be so much greater economically that it is quite possible that we would see non-tariff barriers being erected in a number of jurisdictions. That was one of the arguments that came up when the Quebec legislation was enacted.
For example, European countries that would like to prevent certain firms from getting access to European territory might very well argue that they do not provide the guarantees of protection of personal information that are required by the European legislation. This is a barrier that could await Canadian firms.
Canadian firms, the banks in particular, want to have, over and above the codes of conduct they have provided for themselves, a ``level playing field", to be on an equal footing, and I think this would be an excellent opportunity to do something along those lines. The principles are clearly established. People agree on the principles and on most of the mechanisms.
This does not resolve all the problems of implementation that I mentioned, but at least in terms of principles it is sufficient. There is a clear consensus on this.
The Chair: Perhaps, Russell, you'll ask whether that's human rights or industry, trade and commerce in legislation.
Mr. MacLellan: I want to touch on a couple of things with respect to privacy. It's not only that privacy is being invaded ever more increasingly as time goes along and as the technology is increasing. The other aspect is that it's being done without our knowledge. It would be one thing if it were being done and we knew about it, but when it's being done and we're not being told, it places us all at a very severe risk, frankly, and it's becoming more dangerous all the time.
Also with respect to what Mr. McKay a dit récemment, when he said that the world is changing and that with the printed word we had a major change in our society, I think that's true. We've also heard that every five years there's a major effect in our society. In the year 1000 it was the stirrup, which allowed knights to fight from horseback. That changed the course of war. In the year 1500 we had gunpowder, and that changed society tremendously. And now, 500 years later, we have the microchip.
I honestly don't think we've had anything change our society as greatly as this has. It's not just a means of changing the rules for something, it's changing the whole society. It's changing the components of society. It's changing the interrelations of nations and of peoples within a society.
Dr. Cordell, you mentioned a lot of things with respect to the changing of society. The problem, of course, is the dimension with which it's changing. The problem is that we have a whole aspect of society that's not going to gain ground, that is going to be completely left out.
You mentioned that we don't know where the jobs are coming from. And really, what more basic human right is there than the right to be able to earn a living and support a family, to be able to have a child follow in that course in expectation of the future, and to know where it is we are going? Where are the jobs going to come from?
You mentioned the more optimistic aspects. Could you perhaps elaborate on that? I don't disagree with you. I just think that these things cannot be allowed to fend for themselves. Too many lives are involved.
The Chair: When you're responding to that very thoughtful question, one that...there is a new report on extreme poverty as discrimination against human rights that is supposedly being tabled at the United Nations subcommittee. It is a human rights issue.
In response to that, I wonder if you would put that into the context, Dr. Cordell.
Dr. Cordell: Earlier you asked what the human rights issues are. I think the human rights issue with this technology, including the privacy area, is a sense of helplessness, a loss of control, a growing anxiety about the future.
The issue of privacy is a very interesting one, because we all choose to present ourselves in society in a certain way each day. I made a decision to come here today, I wore a tie, I dressed up in a certain way...or if I'm interviewing for a job and so on and so forth, I present myself in the best possible way with my CV, with what I've published, etc.
If you have other information about me, it unmasks me. It robs me of my preferred self-image. It robs me of my ability to construct my identity, which is the most basic human right there is. The most basic human right is to be able to say, this is who I am. And you can say no, it's not who you are, we know all about you. So it seems to me that privacy really goes to the heart of it.
There's a lot of very good news around the jobs issue. There are whole new careers and industries and there's a lot of excitement for those people who are qualified. For those people who are getting downsized and displaced and who can't be retrained, I think first we have to be acknowledging what's going on rather than telling them to buck up, they'll find jobs one of these days. We have to acknowledge what's going on.
We also have to come to terms with the fact that for many people, a job is really not a way of self-expression or a creative act; it's a way of getting income. At one level we will have to come to terms with the fact that the basic issue may be income and not jobs. We may have to devise ways to get income to those people who are no longer able to work, some kind of basic income security, some kind of guaranteed annual income, some kind of negative income tax, some kind of flat tax.
This technology is brand new and it's changing everything we're doing. We have to think about new ways to manage the economy. It's a new economy, so we can't look at it in old ways.
We talked earlier about the speculation on international money markets. There have been various schemes proposed, one by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, James Tobin, called the Tobin tax. Tobin proposed twenty years ago, and it's now picking up steam, that there are ways not so much to control speculation but to slow it down and to have a tax on it. The tax would generate a lot of revenue with which we could help a lot of people who are displaced by this technology. Other people are calling for a tax on digital traffic itself, a turnover tax on the information highway, a tax on each digital bit of information.
I guess we have to start thinking more innovatively. The technology is very innovative, it's fantastic, it's dramatic, it's changing everything, yet we seem to look at the economy in the same old way. We have to ask, what is new about this new economy? How can we look at it in new ways to benefit everybody rather than to exclude people? We should be promoting inclusion rather than exclusion. I hope this answers your question.
The Chair: Andy, I think you were next.
Mr. Scott: Mr. McVay, did you want to speak -
The Chair: I'm sorry. Please go ahead, Mr. McVay.
Mr. McVay: On the earlier question about the existing law relative to hate speech on the Internet, the Human Rights Commission very clearly has jurisdiction in the sense of the existing law because the telephone lines are involved.
Having said that, from my perspective the law is utterly worthless. I don't see the Human Rights Commission ever successfully prosecuting Ernst Zundel, for instance, for violation of Canadian law simply because the computer that's doing the violating is not in Canada and there's no way they can prove Mr. Zundel is using the telephone lines to get the information down there. There are no effective laws governing the Internet in that regard.
In terms of the human rights issues, one of the problems is encryption. It's interesting to note that the American government is paranoid about exporting encryption technology. But here again, within minutes after a product that the Americans would have treated like a weapon and kept in the country, within minutes after it hit the Internet, it was in use all over the world. That's what I meant when I was talking about having 75 million enemies.
In terms of the issues with human rights, we now have the ability for the first time for the active racists, the Nazis in this country - and I use that term advisedly - to communicate instantly: Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Alberta, Toronto, everywhere. The impact this can have on coordinating terrorism or attacks on Jewish institutions is definitely going to be felt. In fact, in some respects it is probably already being felt.
I have seen the good side of that coin, which is that anti-racist activity has taken advantage of this technology and has put it to far better use than the racists have.
Finally, I have been looking for some angle for me and what I do with regard to the privacy issue. I have two comments.
The first is that I haven't heard anybody talking about who's going to protect my privacy from you.
Dr. Cavoukian: We are.
Mr. McVay: That concerns me more than IBM finding out how much money I made last year. I'm much more concerned with the government prying into my private business.
The second thing is the fascinating comment you made about perceived self-image. I don't know if I want you to start protecting that. One of the strongest weapons I have at my disposal with people such as Mr. Griswold, here in Ottawa, is that I have three years of his writing sitting on my computer, which he cannot deny.
It is usual tactics for the racist to go into a topical discussion having nothing to do with race. My favourite example is sewing. It happens. They'll go into a sewing area and they'll start talking about sewing machines. It won't be very long before they will start slipping in gratuitous racist remarks. One or two of then will play a game and raise these issues.
At that point I like to move in and say, I would like to introduce you to this man. Here is what he has said about interracial marriage. Here is what he has said about this. Here is what he's had to say about the Jews. He thinks you should kill Jews rather than listen to them.
So I like to shatter his preferred self-image because I think it's important to know who he really is.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. MacLellan: Mr. McVay mentioned there were better ways than the restricting of the Internet. Is that what he meant - going in and challenging what is on the Internet as a better way than restricting?
Mr. McVay: That is one way. I'm often quoted as saying I don't believe the government has any business doing anything with the Internet. That's not true. There's a lot the government can do.
For instance, I met a young man this morning who's going to be doing some research for me at the National Archives because some money for that is available here in Ottawa from a private group. It pointed up one of the things government could do.
From my perspective, the National Archives in this country are utterly, completely worthless. I cannot afford to fly to Ottawa. This committee spent $2,000 just to listen for two hours. I can't afford to do that and to stay in a hotel and look up documents I need to deal with Holocaust denial on the Internet. The government, which already has the computers - and really what we're talking about as additional expense is manpower - should be digitizing that data and putting it on the Internet. If they did that they would cause Mr. Zundel more headaches than any law they can pass on hate speech, because it would mean he would no longer be able to lie about the contents of the National Archives. The deniers would no longer be able to misrepresent the information that's in there.
It's not at all unusual to see a statement made on the Internet that this is a dark blue coffee cup and it's full of red wine. The only way you can prove that's wrong is to come all the way to Ottawa, find your way into this building, find the bloody thing, hold it up, and say this is what it is, you make up your own mind.
So from the standpoint of the positive things the government can do, almost every government department - Heritage, the National Archives - has areas of expertise it's not sharing with the Canadian people. They have all the data; they're just not giving it to us. We can't get the data from Statistics Canada. We can't get the data from Immigration. Every day lies are told about what's going on with Canadian immigration in this country. Yet the government, which has the data and which knows what is going on, sits back silently and does absolutely nothing.
Further, if I try to get the data, I go from voice mail system to voice mail system to voice mail system. Then I have to explain who I am and why I want this information. At that point I hang up and start looking in the newspapers.
If the information were readily available on the Internet, I wouldn't have to bother anybody in the government. At that point the government would be striking a real blow against racists who use the immigration issue or misrepresent history.
So there is a lot the government can do. I just don't think regulating what I can do is one of those things.
Mr. Scott: It's really quite fascinating to me, because I've never been exposed to many of these issues at any length with people of your obvious expertise.
One of the things we haven't explored, although we're really looking at this, is the impact of technology on human rights, without necessarily going into it expecting to see negatives or positives. We haven't spoken too much about democracy in the context of the fact that in the spirit ofMr. McVay's comments, we could conceivably make ourselves redundant with this technology in some fashion, which is a lot more attractive to me now than it was two years ago.
The fact is, though, that I believe there's some obligation on our part to do some kind of human rights audit of the activity, which is essentially what we're trying to do. What I hear Mr. McVay saying particularly is that perhaps, rather than the instinctive governmental reaction of restricting activity, we should turn that whole exercise on its head and be out positively using the technology that's available to do good rather than trying to hold back everybody else from using it to do bad.
I don't want to paraphrase somebody else or speak for anyone, but I want to get it straight that that's what I was saying, at the same time recognizing that there are some questions of privacy, whether it's the government or IBM, that need to be dealt with inside of that. There doesn't seem to be much disagreement on that point.
Is that a fair reading of this?
Dr. Cavoukian: There is no disagreement. I could qualify your remarks with one comment that hopefully will show why there's very little disagreement between our views.
The type of activity that Mr. McVay is encouraging the government to do in terms of digitizing records and information holdings I would totally agree with. Those types of records, in our language, are called general records. They're public records. They're records that are intended to be in the public domain, readily accessible to all, and therefore access to them should be widely encouraged by whatever means possible. I have absolutely no problem with that.
What I think is complementary to that is the protection of personal information. Therein lies the distinction. Information that is supposed to be public - general records, public records - is out and should be accessible. Information that is considered to be personal information - meaning that it is linked to an individual's name, it describes that individual in some way - should be controlled by the individual. That's the difference between public information and personal information.
If you think of them as being two generally different sets of information holdings.... One you want to put out because in effect it belongs to the public. It should be publicly accessible and widely distributed. The other does not belong to the public. It belongs to you, the individual. You make it available to the government through the public for a particular purpose: payment of your taxes, purchase of real estate, and so on.
There are very restricted reasons why you make your personal information available to the government for a particular purpose. They must then use it only for that purpose and, absent your consent, they cannot make it publicly available, because it is not their information to make publicly available. That's the distinction.
If you will bear that in mind, you'll see that there's very little conflict between, on the one side, putting public information out, making it widely accessible, and protecting personal information, which is not the government's to have.
Mr. MacKay: I fully agree with the previous contributions.
I would simply like to note that when we speak of the Quebec model concerning the protection of personal information, we have to discuss it in full.
The Quebec statute is called the Act respecting access to information and the protection of personal information. The basic principle is that everyone should have the fullest possible access to all information held by the government, and the protection of personal information is an exception to that general principle.
In terms of public information, the availability of all of Canada's national archives over the Internet is an exceptional idea in terms of cultural, political, social, economic, etc. resources. The protection of personal information is the exception, where it involves information that concerns strictly individuals.
We sometimes speak of the Quebec management model, when we say that a single commission administers both aspects of the issue: requests for access to information and requests for protection of personal information. This is one of the models that is being discussed the most throughout the world when new laws are drafted.
It is issues of this kind that a committee such as this should be studying.
On the other hand, the protection of personal information is a fundamental right in a democracy. If there is to be free expression of democratic debate, you should not be exposed to being criticized for all your opinions, nor should the people with whom you are discussing necessarily know everything you have published during your life, everything you have said, everything you have done, everything you think, everything you subscribe to. This blocks the process of democratic discussion rather than helping it.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
We have a researcher with us who's really an integral part of our staff. Mr. Young would like to ask a question.
I know, Jutta, you want to respond to something. Could you wait for Mr. Young's question. Then I think we're at wrap-up time. We all have to be out of here. The camera closes down, the committee closes down, and at 1 p.m. we're out of here.
Go ahead, Mr. Young.
Mr. Bill Young (Committee Researcher): I'm a historian, and I spent 15 years doing research at the National Archives. So I have a fair idea of exactly how much information is there. The cost of making that information available in total would be horrendous. Barring the fact that it can't necessarily be made available in total, how would you decide what information to make available?
The Chair: If you have a second question, perhaps you could place it now.
Mr. Young: The second question is, where does Canada stand with regard to privacy legislation compared with other countries? Are there other models one could follow, and are there other models one could avoid?
The Chair: Is the Quebec model an ideal model?
Mr. McVay: I know from nothing about privacy issues, so I'm going to slide that one by. I'm sorry, but it's an area I don't deal with.
I can tell you, I'm a cynic. I automatically assume information is going to be abused when it's private information. You probably detected a note of that cynicism. I don't think it's possible for you to protect my privacy, either, but that's another issue.
With regard to the information in the archives, I can tell you that attitude - and I say this with a lot of respect - is why the Nizkor Project in the United States purchased 6,500 pieces of microfilm from the American National Archives. We're going to do it ourselves, because by the time the government gets around to doing it, and all the chickens get together and spend years and years thinking about how much it's going to cost to do it, we will have done it.
We haven't found it to be an expensive process in terms of making the original material available. What is expensive is the OCR process, translating that material into raw text. That is expensive.
The Chair: Are you talking about index or actual content -
Mr. McVay: I'm talking about every single piece of paper in the National Archives.
The Chair: Okay. That's what I thought.
Mr. Young: It may not be my attitude, but I know somebody is going to ask this question. I thought I might as well get your views on record.
Mr. McVay: It's a question of no small importance. In our case, I got lucky in that the person funding this is wealthy and has the technology. I was amazed to discover that I'm getting these documents from microfilm to CD-ROM as an automatic process with a TV camera and a machine and a computer. It takes all of five minutes per roll.
So that part of it is simple. If the government would do that much, we'd happily convert what we needed as we needed it.
The Chair: We might want to invite the National Archives here at some point in the future to discuss that.
Mr. Bernier, then Jutta.
Mr. Bernier: I would like to make a brief comment.
My comment has to do with disabled persons. Ms Treviranus very appropriately pointed out the advantages of the new technologies for disabled people in the areas of communications and industry.
Recently, on the Radio-Canada program Enjeux, I saw a report on the new medical technologies and, in particular, the operations that can be performed on a foetus. They gave the example of handicapped children. This has some appalling consequences. It can lead to the death of the child. This ethical issue surrounding the biomedical field is very fundamental in regard to human rights. I would like to hear a little from you on this and especially for you to give us your advice in relation to what the government should or should not do in this field.
Ms Treviranus: I understand that this will be a topic of a future round table as well. It's a very large topic. I'm not sure if I'm - -
The Chair: Perhaps, then, we could come back to that at the next round table, and perhaps she could join us for part of the session to respond to that question.
Would that be acceptable?
Mr. Bernier: Yes.
The Chair: Okay, you're reinvited. In fact, you're all reinvited. We're going to have a mass round table where we can all have some exchanges.
Dr. Cavoukian, based on your interventions today, the Quebec model was mentioned, but is that the world model? Where do we as Canadians stand with respect to privacy legislation in other countries? Is our record better? Is it worse? Do you have models that you believe might be worth looking at for us to emulate?
I think this committee would appreciate from you some guidance about what we should avoid and what we might pick up as being effective. If you can't get all your answer in because we've got to close down, then you'll write to me or you'll come back.
Dr. Cavoukian: I'll be glad to answer that.
We don't fare too badly in Canada, but let me qualify that. As I mentioned before, with the exception of Quebec we do not have jurisdiction over the private sector. Quebec has what is considered to be very good privacy legislation. It has two acts, one for the private sector and one for the public sector.
If the rest of the country adopted a model like Quebec's, then we would be quite content. However, that's unlikely. There is a great deal of talk about how a federal act might be introduced that will cover the private sector, and we are very optimistic. I encourage your support if any federal legislation is presented.
New Zealand has what I would consider to be the best privacy legislation in the world. They have a privacy act that applies to both the public and private sectors, but it is supplemented by privacy codes of conduct that specific sectors with an industry tailor to their own needs. For example, medical records have special needs that aren't shared by credit records.
This is an ideal model to pursue. I can expand on that later.
Let me leave you with one very important thing. If you have a privacy law, regardless of whether it's for the public or private sector, but it doesn't come with an independent oversight agency, a watchdog body, such as a data commissioner or a privacy commissioner, then I suggest that the law is very limited in its value, because there is no one to enforce compliance with the law.
That's what they have in the United States. They were the leaders in 1974, when they introduced a federal privacy act. They failed to introduce a privacy commissioner or a data protection board with it. Their protection of privacy at a global level is considered to be abysmal and lacking in strength across the board, in both the public and private sectors. One of the major reasons attributed to that is the absence of any type of independent oversight agency.
The Chair: Does our privacy commissioner fill any of those qualifications, or the New Zealand model?
Dr. Cavoukian: We do. Canada is very good in that way. We have a federal privacy commissioner, Mr. Bruce Phillips, who oversees the federal privacy act. Each of the provinces has independent access and privacy commissioners, or in some of the provinces the ombudsman fulfils that role. But most of the provinces that have specific privacy laws also have commissioners vested with the protection of that law. That's a model we would try to emulate.
The Chair: Was the Canadian Standards Association model the one you were referring to before, and the Department of Industry?
Dr. Cavoukian: The CSA model, which is a model privacy code, is an excellent model. It's not regulated. It's not a law, but it's a voluntary privacy code that was developed over the past three years by private sector organizations.
In order to address the absence of any privacy protection for the private sector, business and commercial enterprises got together, with our help, and we developed a - -
The Chair: And consumers, I hope.
Dr. Cavoukian: Absolutely. Consumers were at the table - everyone you could imagine in terms of representation. That's why it took three years.
This is an excellent code that deserves our support, and if federal legislation develops it would be in concert with that code.
The Chair: Andy Scott, you have the last word, along with Jutta.
Mr. Scott: Actually, my question is to Jutta, Madam Chair, so I guess it works out well. But we're not going to be able to do this justice in whatever time is left.
I was wondering if there is work or research or anything that would direct us as a committee toward the issue of any assessment that has been done on technology and persons with disabilities - what is out there, and as a human rights issue, what obligations we have around that.
Ms Treviranus: There's quite a large body of data you can find on the web. I will give you some URLs after the committee and I can direct you to that.
International efforts are going on that are looking at international standards for access. There are groups in Canada and the U.S., and also in Europe, that are looking specifically at this issue. There's a large body of information.
The comment I just wanted to make is that we've been talking a lot about the fact that information is free and we can't regulate it. One of the things the government can influence is the technology we use to access that information. There we can have a much more powerful effect, because we can influence the corporations that are developing this technology, we can influence what technology is promoted, etc. I think that should be another topic of discussion.
The Chair: I would like to suggest that any information and data you believe will be helpful in advancing the discussions we need would be much appreciated, as well as the New Zealand privacy act, Quebec act -
We will have all the documents we alluded to during this two hours of discussion brought in.
I would like to thank our panellists and the members. You have all contributed a lot to the development of our thinking, when we are setting out on an unknown road.
For this I want to thank you most sincerely on behalf of all the members of the House, on all sides of the House, who have been with us today. I know what you've shared with us will be the start of a growing knowledge base. I hope you'll be open to our call to you on other occasions. We thank you very much.
The meeting is adjourned.