Privacy, data and the digital age

Recap of Dal's Data Privacy Day event

Hilary Stamper - February 12, 2013

Jill Clayton, Alberta's information and privacy commissioner, speaking at Data Privacy Day. (Nick Pearce photo)

“Information lasts forever on the Internet, in a whole lot of cases.”

A scary thought from David Fraser, one of Canada’s leading IT and privacy lawyers and MC for this year’s Data Privacy Day event at Dal. But it’s the reality of an age where digital information is our primary form of business currency.

Data Privacy Day is an international event, held this year on January 28, to inform and educate citizens around the world about ways to protect their rights to privacy. It’s designed to inform everyone from business professionals to government employees to students about the importance of data privacy and the impact that technology has on our ability to protect our data.

Dal’s event featured a variety of speakers from different sectors and parts of the world, many of them urging attendees to use the variety of resources available for self-education on privacy law and avoiding privacy threats.

Staying curious about privacy


Fraser promoted having an interest in and being curious about privacy related topics.

“Privacy stuff comes to the fore all the time,” he explained. “Facebook implements a new policy for settings, everybody sees that in their feed. They should click on it, they should investigate it, it won’t take very long... all the privacy regulators in Canada have a lot of really useful resources on their websites that are focused at consumers and individuals who don't need a law degree in order to figure these things out.”

The speakers also recognized that the onus of data privacy does not always rest on the shoulders of citizens. In the wake of the recent breach at HRSDC Canada and the loss of the personal and sensitive information of at least 500,000 student loan applicants as well as their guarantors and co-signers, the general sentiment at the conference was that our governments can and should be doing more to protect our personal data and privacy.

Jill Clayton, Alberta's current information and privacy commissioner, spoke to these recent data protection disasters as well as emerging issues regarding privacy legislation and resources. She emphasized the importance of government transparency regarding data privacy and protection.

“There are privacy laws across Canada [which] give individuals rights; [however] if you don't know what’s happened to your information, if systems are not transparent, or if they're so complex and sophisticated you have no idea what’s going on, then you won't know to exercise those rights” said Clayton.

Big data, big questions


Dwight Fischer, Dal’s assistant vice-president of Information Technology Services, discussed the privacy implications of using personal data to customize student learning based on personal data, akin to systems like Amazon or Google Analytics. The presentation generated lots of discussion about how such a system could be implemented while still protecting the privacy and data of the individuals involved.

Other presentations included Peter Morin, senior manager for IT security at Bell Aliant, discussing security considerations with cloud technology, and John Bullock, Dal’s information security manager, who compelled the audience to defend their privacy rights and not give away more information to websites and services than what is necessary.

The event was sold out this year, attracting registrants from a wide variety of backgrounds including government, private business, public sector and students, for whom the conference was free.

The last speaker of the day was Simon Davies, a privacy advocate and academic from the U.K. who is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most influential privacy experts. Davies has worked in the arenas of privacy, data protection, consumer rights and technology policy for more than 25 years and, for him, seeing a room full of more than 200 people interested in data privacy was groundbreaking.

“People have begun to wise up about the way their privacy is being treated and they don’t like it,” he said. “Ten years ago this was an elite niche market... it shows we are now dealing with a valuable economic sector and something that matters to the whole world, now I believe things are changing.”


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