Photograph by John Schnobrich
The incoming government of NDP Premier-elect John Horgan is again being urged to strengthen the privacy laws that protect British Columbians against the clandestine collection, analysis, and storage of their personal information.
The Privacy Commissioners of BC, Alberta, and Canada recently completed an investigation into shopping mall real estate giant Cadillac Fairview over its collection of biometric data on shoppers at malls without consent.
BC Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy says people must be informed about when and where such information is being collected and must be asked for permission.
“Do you consent to its use? A person can say they may have no problem with that, on the other hand, others may say no, that’s a little creepy, or whatever, I don’t like that, but that they’re given the option”
Powerful software programs have been developed to collect, build profiles of individuals, and cross-reference that personal information across several databases.
McEvoy says if there are proper protections in place for its use, “that’s where, potentially, technology could be deployed.”
His office and others have been urging the province to move forward on updating the privacy laws to ensure that there are proper sanctions in place as a disincentive to the clandestine collection and use of personal information by organizations
McEvoy says with the election behind us, it’s time for the BC government to update the laws.
According to the three privacy commissioners, Cadillac Fairview collected personal information and contravened privacy laws by failing to obtain meaningful consent.
Five-million images were obtained using small, inconspicuous cameras, inside mall information kiosks.
The investigation also revealed Cadillac Fairview had used video analytics to collect and analyze sensitive biometric information of customers and facial recognition software-generated additional personal information about individual shoppers, including estimated age and gender.
Cadillac Fairview stated it was not collecting personal information since the images taken by cameras were briefly analyzed then deleted.
However, the investigation found the sensitive biometric information was being stored in a centralized database by a third party.
Cadillac Fairview said it did not know the database of biometric information existed, raising the possibility of potential use by unauthorized parties or, in the case of a data breach, by malicious actors.
According to McEvoy, “it’s important that we modernize our privacy laws in British Columbia to make sure the public is protected when people’s personal information is misused or abused.
Federally, Canada’s Innovation Minister, Navdeep Bains, has said the country’s 20-year-old privacy legislation will soon be updated to address gaps in personal-data protection, but he would not say what the timeline is.