Privacy and Social Media in Canada

This guest post was written by Fiona Causer, a student currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies. She enjoys writing and seeks to use it as a vehicle to convey ideas and engage others in discussing relevant issues of our day.


Canada is the thirteenth most saturated country in terms of global Facebook users, with a penetration rate of 51.22%.  With so many users, Facebook,  Twitter, and other social media sites maintain personal information on millions of people.

The basic information you provide Facebook includes personal information like hometown, employer, education, religious and political views, phone numbers, email addresses, and more.

Your book, movie, and music preferences, as well as your current whereabouts and up to the minute status updates, and so much more are part of the price we pay for such “free” services.

Thankfully, unlike in America where this issue has recently been an issue in the news, federal labor laws prevent prospective employers from requesting personal information from job applicants, like social media passwords. Employers requesting Facebook passwords would be in violation of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)  and the Ontario Human Rights Code. And likely, there will not be a cause for concern in the future, since both federal and local governments employ privacy commissioners in order to guard the privacy of Canadian workers. Despite these safeguards, Canadian legal practitioners still need to remain vigilant in assessing new privacy cases as the social media landscape continues to change. Many Canadian law, legal services and paralegal degree programs are continuing to put an emphasis in understanding privacy and intellectual property law. Canadian lawyers are ready for any personal privacy-related issues in the future.

Canada has taken issue with Facebook’s privacy settings in the past; in 2009, the country released a privacy commission report indicating that even after a user deletes their account, the company keeps user information. Though Facebook agreed to change their privacy policy in response to Canada’s requests, the ongoing evolution of Facebook ensures that this won’t be the last of the questionable privacy settings, and Canadians should be aware that every time Facebook makes changes, users privacy settings need to be reanalyzed.

Internet legislation, not just in social media, is becoming increasingly concerned with censorship and piracy. America’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) protests were obvious: websites took a stand, Facebook profile pictures were replaced by the anti-signs, and SOPA and PIPA were broadcast widely as terrible solutions to a perplexing problem. But the neighbors to the north are facing their own political push towards online censorship with Bill C-11, which, though less radical than PIPA and SOPA, will seriously affect North American internet usage.

However, this does not mean that there have not been legislative attempts to make the Canadian government privy to its citizens’ personal information. For example, while Bill C-10 has been passed, Parliament first removed the “lawful access” provisions, in response to public discontent over its inclusion. This would affect the privacy rights of all Canadian citizens (not just criminals) by allowing warrantless access to personal information Despite its removal in Bill-10, it appears that Parliament is trying to reinsert similar language and provisions into Bill C-30, this time for the intended purpose of protecting Canadian children from criminals. Regardless of Parliament’s intent, there is clearly a desire for granting itself greater scrutiny into the actions of its citizens. If any clause regarding “lawful access” is included in either C-30 or future bills, there will surely be more privacy rights concerns for Canadians.

As for C-11, while it seeks to provide protection against copyright infringement, it will serve little purpose in protecting Canadian’s right to privacy, especially if “lawful access” is ever included in any future legislation. Ultimately, while these bills (i.e., C-10, C-11, C-30) are rooted in the idea of protecting its citizens either from intellectual property theft or criminality, they do propose significant concerns for the privacy rights of Canadians; especially those actively engaged with social media networks.

Having a collective voice is a powerful tool. And if Canadians start to feel that their future privacy rights are on the fringe of being compromised: they will have to actively speak up. Otherwise, Parliament may not even think to listen.

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