Bruce Phillips, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, testified before the subcommittee on Communications of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications about Internet privacy on June 19. Below is an excerpt from his prensentation. Three aspects of this marketplace, its interactivity, its inherently borderless nature, and the lack of transparency — that is to say, people not knowing what is being done with their information — make protecting people’s privacy rights an enormous challenge. The interactivity of the Internet allows companies to put cookies on the hard drives, hackers to attempt to hijack our computers, and marketers to attempt to fill up our mailboxes with emails. The borderless nature of the Internet makes the enforcement of rules very difficult. Most individuals do not know where the web sites that they visit are based. The lack of transparency means that most consumers do not know who has what information, how it is being used, or even that their online movements are being tracked. Even though this is a challenge, I am not prepared to accept the advice of a chief executive officer of one large technology company, who responded to concerns about online privacy by saying, "Well, you already have zero privacy, so get over it." I am not sure, honourable senators, whether you are familiar with that comment. Is there any light in this otherwise fairly dark tunnel? There is a great deal of interest in this right now in the U.S., and I do not think that it is adequate to say, as many American corporations and special interest groups say, that self-regulation will do the job. Given the borderless nature of the Internet and the dominance of American technology companies, anything that the U.S. does to protect personal information will have an impact on the privacy of Canadians…. This Parliament recently passed Bill C-6, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. Is that an answer to these problems? It is only part of the answer. In the area of workplace privacy, for example, the legislation only applies to federally regulated workers, at least for the first three years. My office is still studying how, if at all, the legislation will apply to information collected by web sites outside Canada..... One of the problems is that most of the information on the Internet does not involve a commercial transaction. Thus it would escape Bill C-6 altogether. Therefore, the act is powerless to stop someone from posting personal information on a web site.... What can be done to protect privacy in these areas? One of the greatest needs is for a much more informed public. The uneasiness and reluctance of people to trade on the Internet, for example, is one concern that is now beginning to take root in Canada and elsewhere. There is a sense that more needs to be done legislatively to protect people’s privacy rights.... It would be very helpful to everyone concerned if the United States would stop dragging its feet on this matter. Congress should get down to business and pass a generally applicable privacy law similar to, and perhaps even stronger than, Bill C-6. The United States is the undoubted leader and the centre from which a great deal of the commercial traffic emanates. In closing, we cannot turn this tide back, nor do I think we should even contemplate doing so, because the benefits of the Internet in terms of "democratizing" the world, if you wish to put it that way, are enormous. We must somehow reconcile the benefits of this technology with a recognition of and respect for privacy, whether it is on the Internet, in the streets, or in our neighbourhoods. It must be preserved if we are to maintain a decent civil society.