Laws protect digital privacy

The American government recently passed legislation making “digital signatures” as legally binding as the pen and ink variety. In Canada, the post office uses this technology when customers sign for packages.You press a plastic pen on a glass screen and your signature appears on the surface beneath the glass. It’s like a memo-pad Etcha-Sketch. It’s quick, and automatically connects to computerized information about the package’s movement through the system.

Digital technology like this speeds up so many processes. Information is readily accessible and retrievable. Digital technology also makes it very easy for those who want to snoop. Canadian lawmakers are now examining the numerous privacy issues raised.

One example is the ‘smart’ health card that can contain your entire medical history on an embedded microchip. This is a very useful invention that could save a lot of lives in emergency situations.

Card helps in emergency
Imagine a diabetic who collapses into a coma in a busy shopping mall. The ambulance attendants arrive. If they run the patient’s health card through a portable scanner, they instantly get a complete medical history. Ty can use this to determine treatment on the way to the hospital.

The flip side, of course, is that your medical records will also be much more accessible to anyone with an interest in your medical history. The same thing applies to your financial history, buying patterns, legal
records, and virtually any “confidential” aspect of your life.

To address these issues, the federal government passed the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (formerly Bill C-6) earlier this year.

Looking for input
Recently, the Ontario government released a consultation paper on the proposed Ontario Privacy Act. The government is asking for input on the best ways to protect peoples’ privacy. In today’s global digital economy, this is a big challenge, as people regularly deal with businesses and other non-government organizations.

“New technologies and information systems are transforming the marketplace at a remarkable pace,” says Ontario MPP John O’Toole. “Privacy protection must keep pace with the changing times.”

It’s important that governments recognize the need for privacy protection. Yet they are sometimes the worst offenders in making private information public. The recent scandal over the federal government’s massive (and secret) database on virtually every Canadian serves as a reminder that privacy is especially precious in a digital world.