Privacy FAQ

1. What is privacy? In the context of both the Internet and data collection, privacy can be defined as an individual's control over access to his or her personal data.

2. Should I be concerned about my privacy? Yes. Canadians demand and expect a high degree of personal privacy. Electronic communication and electronic commerce will, and are, exponentially increase the amount of personal data being collected and stored. The creation of more and bigger data bases is giving rise to data matching and data mining, and the ability to discern personal information to a greater degree than ever before possible.

3. What should I expect? Generally, individuals should be as free as possible to determine the appropriate level of personal privacy in their lives. In other words, people should expect the right to an informed consent to the collection, storage and use of data.

4. What does encryption and security have to do with privacy? There is no privacy without some level of security. Security standards vary according to the context. The desired level of privacy is determined in part by the application of some level of security over the information being stored. The more confidential information is, the more call there is for stronger internal security and encryption.

5. What are digital signatures? These are encrypted messages that are used to authenticate the person sending a communication or document, and that the document itself is original and unaltered.

6. What are some of the things that I should be concerned about? Among other things, you might be concerned about the extent to which data about you is collected, the quality of it, whether there are any restrictions on the subsequent use of it, and whether you have personal access to the information to ensure that it is correct.

7. Where can I find out more about consumer privacy? See the Links section of this web site for links to Canadian privacy resources.

8. But if I am acting within the law, do I really have anything to fear? Yes. Information gathered for a particular purpose (i.e. your health care) can end up being used for some other purpose that you didn't even contemplate.

9. How is my personal information available on the Internet? Generally, information is only available if you have, at some point, provided it. By reducing the amount of information you voluntarily provide, you can reduce the amount of information generally available. It is best to give only the amount of personal information that is consistent with the transaction you are entering into. For example, you would give the pizza store only the amount of personal information necessary to complete the purchase.

10. As there is some question at this point about the security of the Internet, should some information never be given out? Yes, an argument can be made that some information should not be obtained, or stored on-line. For example, if an insurer is interacting with its' clients online, neither the insurer nor its' customers may want to exchange sensitive medical information on-line.

11. Is information really being collected from children? Yes. Typically, sites ask children for personal information in return for access to the site or the promise of winning a contest.

12. Are people collecting data about me without me knowing it? Yes they are. When ever you go online, you leave an electronic trail which may tell something about you as an individual. Much information is also being covertly collected without your consent through newsgroups, chat rooms and by the use of electronic tokens called cookies (which send information about you back to the computer which gave your computer the cookie in the first place).

13. How can I avoid giving out personal information without knowing that I am doing it? One way you can do this is to minimize the electronic trail that you leave behind. For suggestionssee Surfing Safely in Cyberspace. For an example on how to set your browser to notify you before accepting cookies, see IBM.

14. Where can I find about more about cookies, whether I should be concerned about them, and how to manage them? One of many sites dealing with this topic is

15. What legal protection does the ordinary citizen have? In the private sector, none other than voluntary codes. The one exception is Quebec. An example of a private code is that of the Canadian Direct Marketing Association.

16. How am I protected in the public sector? Both the Federal and Provincial governments have legislated privacy rights, along to freedom of information rights, for government and quasi-government bodies such as hospitals, police departments, etc.

17. What else can I do to protect my privacy? Simply, if you take some personal responsibility, in the case of the Internet, by not divulging personal information in the first place, the risk of a loss of privacy will be much less.





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