Canada: Digital Privacy Act Everything Old Is New Again

Last Updated: April 11 2014
Article by Bernice Karn

On April 8, 2014, the Harper government introduced Bill S-4 in the Senate. The new Bill, known as the "Digital Privacy Act" is touted as providing new protections for Canadians when they search the web and shop online. However, for privacy observers, the Digital Privacy Act largely represents a retabling of two previous Bills introduced in the House of Commons to amend the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act ("PIPEDA"), the most recent of which was Bill C-12, introduced in 2011, which died when Parliament was prorogued in 2013.

The Digital Privacy Act contains a number of administrative amendments and, of the recycled amendments to PIPEDA, the following are noteworthy:

  • Business Contact Information - The Bill contains a definition of "business contact information" which, together with the revised definition of "personal information," will make communicating with employees easier in the course of day to day business.
  • Business Transaction Exemption - A long standing problem with PIPEDA is that it does not contain an exemption for the use or disclosure of personal information in the context of the sale of a business or other fundamental business transaction. Following the lead of the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, which have provided exemptions in their provincial privacy legislation to address this issue, the Digital Privacy Act would now allow for the use and disclosure of this information in the context of a fundamental business transaction provided that certain safeguards are in place and affected individuals receive notice of the disclosure.
  • Employee Information - Also in the business context, and again following the lead of the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, the Digital Privacy Act would add an exemption that allows for the collection, use and disclosure without consent of personal information of the individual in the context of an employment relationship. Note that PIPEDA only applies to personal information of employees of a "federal work, undertaking or business."
  • Breach Notification - Another long standing criticism of PIPEDA was that it did not require any breach notification in the event of a data breach affecting personal information. The Digital Privacy Act seeks to rectify this shortcoming by mandating a report to the Commissioner for any breach of security safeguards involving personal information where it is reasonable in the circumstances to believe that the breach creates a "real risk of significant harm to an individual." The proposed amendments would also require notification to the individuals involved where the real risk of significant harm test is met.

    If enacted, the Digital Privacy Act will require organizations to keep and maintain records of every breach of security safeguards affecting personal information under their control. This rather onerous obligation will also have consequences for many cloud computing contracts where the customer is entrusting personal information to a cloud provider, particularly since the organization that "controls" the personal information may be liable for a fine of up to $100,000 for intentional breaches of the breach notification and record keeping requirements.

Compliance Agreements

In terms of actual "news" in the Digital Privacy Act, the Bill proposes a new section 17.1 that gives the federal Privacy Commissioner (the "Commissioner") the power to enter into "compliance agreements" where the Commissioner believes on reasonable grounds that an organization has committed, is about to commit, or is likely to commit an act or omission that could constitute a breach of certain provisions of PIPEDA. This is not the order making authority that many had thought that the Commissioner might obtain in future amendments to PIPEDA. A compliance agreement will suspend the Commissioner's right to apply to court for hearings of certain matters under PIPEDA, but affected individuals will retain the right to apply for hearings, and prosecutions of offences under PIPEDA remain possible.

Where the Commissioner is of the view that the organization is not adhering to the terms of a compliance agreement, the Commissioner has an obligation to notify the organization and may apply to the court: for an order requiring compliance, to request a hearing (relating to certain provisions of PIPEDA) or to reinstate existing suspended proceedings. While this compliance agreement regime does not have the force of order making authority, it should provide the Commissioner with some leverage to enforce compliance with PIPEDA, especially since the Commissioner is only required to believe on reasonable grounds that an organization has committed, is about to commit, or is likely to commit an act that could contravene certain provisions of PIPEDA in order to request a compliance agreement and it does have the effect of suspending unwanted litigation from the affected organization's perspective. Therefore, organizations will have an incentive to negotiate and enter into these types of agreements.

While the Digital Privacy Act is largely re-proposing concepts that have been tabled before in Parliament, privacy advocates hope that the third time is the charm and that this Bill will ultimately be enacted. The Bill should also provide some comfort to businesses in terms of facilitating business transactions without the necessity to obtain individual consents to the use or disclosure of personal information in the course of these transactions (or to obtain a court order permitting such transfer) and to at last put some parameters around the scope of breach notification requirements at the federal level.

We will be monitoring the progress of this Bill and will advise on any significant developments as they occur.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Bernice Karn
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.