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Federal government unveils “Digital Charter” for trust in the digital age

May 30, 2019

Broad proposals more of an election platform than an action plan for digital issues

In a speech at the Empire Club on May 21, 2019 (YouTube recording), Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains outlined a “Digital Charter” intended to guide future legislation and policy priorities in the areas of trust, data policy, privacy, misinformation and democracy. The Charter is based on ten principles, some of which have been further elaborated on in documentation linked from that page:

  1. Universal Access: All Canadians will have equal opportunity to participate in the digital world and the necessary tools to do so, including access, connectivity, literacy and skills.
  2. Safety and Security: Canadians will be able to rely on the integrity, authenticity and security of the services they use and should feel safe online.
  3. Control and Consent: Canadians will have control over what data they are sharing, who is using their personal data and for what purposes, and know that their privacy is protected.
  4. Transparency, Portability and Interoperability: Canadians will have clear and manageable access to their personal data and should be free to share or transfer it without undue burden.
  5. Open and Modern Digital Government: Canadians will be able to access modern digital services from the Government of Canada, which are secure and simple to use.
  6. A Level Playing Field: The Government of Canada will ensure fair competition in the online marketplace to facilitate the growth of Canadian businesses and affirm Canada's leadership on digital and data innovation, while protecting Canadian consumers from market abuses.
  7. Data and Digital for Good: The Government of Canada will ensure the ethical use of data to create value, promote openness and improve the lives of people—at home and around the world.
  8. Strong Democracy: The Government of Canada will defend freedom of expression and protect against online threats and disinformation designed to undermine the integrity of elections and democratic institutions.
  9. Free from Hate and Violent Extremism: Canadians can expect that digital platforms will not foster or disseminate hate, violent extremism or criminal content.
  10. Strong Enforcement and Real Accountability: There will be clear, meaningful penalties for violations of the laws and regulations that support these principles.

Given that there is a short window before Parliament rises for the summer and with an election expected in October, the Digital Charter has been understood to be as much of an election platform as anything else. And, in many cases, the Digital Charter recites previous statements of principles made by the federal government. 

In particular, the Minister in his speech and in subsequent documentation, has outlined significant changes to Canada’s private sector privacy law, the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. This is described in “Strengthening Privacy for the Digital Age”, which does not lay out may specifics about privacy law reform, but includes a list of “possible options” and “considerations and questions” for each of them. Most significant, perhaps, is an intention to increase the Privacy Commissioner’s enforcement powers, though this also has few specifics.

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