Canada urged to pro­tect data pri­vacy in NAFTA

Medicine Hat News - - NATION -

OT­TAWA Con­cern is grow­ing that fed­eral ne­go­tia­tors aren’t do­ing enough to pro­tect the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of Cana­di­ans from pry­ing U.S. in­ter­ests at the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment ne­go­ti­a­tions.

In­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies and other dig­i­tal econ­omy in­sid­ers say fed­eral ne­go­tia­tors ap­peared un­pre­pared dur­ing this week’s third round of talks to counter an Amer­i­can pro­posal that would for­bid the stor­age of sen­si­tive data in com­put­ing fa­cil­i­ties on Cana­dian soil.

Some warned that Canada ap­peared soft on the is­sue and might con­cede to the Amer­i­can de­mands in the in­ter­est of horse-trad­ing — to po­ten­tially win con­ces­sions on higher-pro­file ar­eas of con­tention, such as au­tos and agri­cul­ture.

They say giv­ing in to Amer­i­can de­mands to open up a freer flow of cross-bor­der data would not only un­der­mine do­mes­tic pri­vacy rights, but ham­string the abil­ity of emerg­ing Cana­dian com­pa­nies to com­pete in the grow­ing dig­i­tal econ­omy.

At is­sue is so-called “data lo­cal­iza­tion,” which would al­low the gov­ern­ment to pro­tect the sen­si­tive per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of Cana­di­ans — es­pe­cially health and fi­nan­cial records — from un­wanted Amer­i­can in­tru­sion, by stor­ing it in Canada.

A se­nior fed­eral of­fi­cial, who would only speak on the con­di­tion they not be iden­ti­fied, said the gov­ern­ment would stand up for Cana­di­ans’ data and pri­vacy rights at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble.

Wide­spread global con­cern has been stoked by fears of U.S. sur­veil­lance on pri­vate cit­i­zens, and re­quire­ments un­der the post 9-11 Pa­triot Act that gives Amer­i­can law en­force­ment ac­cess to data stored in U.S. fa­cil­i­ties. Big com­pa­nies such as Ama­zon and Mi­crosoft have built servers in Canada to ad­dress pri­vacy con­cerns.

Sources say U.S. ne­go­tia­tors pro­posed NAFTA terms that banned data lo­cal­iza­tion, lift­ing lan­guage di­rectly from the failed Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship.

The U.S. po­si­tion con­trasts with Bri­tish Columbia and Nova Sco­tia laws that re­quire lo­cal data stor­age and ap­pears to con­flict with fed­eral pol­icy, which says “sen­si­tive or pro­tected data un­der gov­ern­ment con­trol will be stored on servers that re­side in Canada.”

Canada lacks an over­all strat­egy on the data and should not give in to Amer­i­can de­mands un­til it de­vel­ops one, said Keith Mil­lar, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of Ot­tawa-based tech­nol­ogy firm Pythian.

“Data lo­cal­iza­tion seems not to be ne­go­ti­ated as ag­gres­sively as agri­cul­ture or auto,” said Mil­lar.

“Un­til Canada gets a na­tional strat­egy to­gether, we should keep it out of NAFTA.”

Mor­gan El­liot, vice-pres­i­dent of Mis­sis­sauga-based SOTI Inc., said data “is the new gold” of the 21st cen­tury econ­omy and giv­ing up ac­cess to it in NAFTA could have “cat­a­strophic” con­se­quences for the com­pet­i­tive­ness of Cana­dian com­pa­nies in the fu­ture.

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