Privacy in a Liberal Democracy

Just what is privacy? It is useful to consider privacy as a kind of personal thing or interest, among many others, that some people like to have lots of. “Privacy is the interest that individuals have in sustaining ‘personal space’, free from interference by other people and organizations” “It is the desire by each of us for physical space where we can be free of interruption, intrusion, embarrassment, or accountability and the attempt to control the time and manner of disclosure of personal information about ourselves”.

Privacy Defined with three Dimensions

Privacy is defined as, “A multi-faceted term that can be summed up simply as “the right to be left alone”. My research and personal experience has shown that privacy is not just a single interest and has multiple dimensions which were explored to a deeper level by Roger Clark. These dimensions include:

Privacy of the person, sometimes referred to as ‘bodily privacy’. This is concerned with the integrity of the individual’s body. Issues include compulsory immunization, blood transfusion without consent, and compulsory sterilization.

Privacy of personal behaviour, relates to all aspects of behaviour, but especially to sensitive matters, such as sexual preferences and habits, political activities, and religious practices, both in private and in public places.

Privacy of personal communications, where individuals claim an interest in being able to communicate among themselves, using various media, without routine monitoring of their communications by other persons or organizations, sometimes referred to as ‘Interception privacy’.

Privacy of personal data, where individuals claim that data about themselves should not be automatically available to other individuals and organizations, and that, even where data is possessed by another party, the individuals must be able to exercise a substantial degree of control over that data and its use, sometimes referred to as ‘data privacy’ and ‘information privacy’.”

Privacy Today and Throughout History

Today, and since the 1980s, a close alignment has occurred between computing and communications and it has subsequently become the public’s primary focus. The term ‘information privacy’ is now often referred to as the combination of communications privacy and data privacy.

Throughout history, pursuing privacy has looked different. “In the first wave of history, Americans seemed to pursue physical privacy; in the second half- after the Civil War- Americans seemed in pursuit of information privacy”. Cameras, telephone and high-speed publishing sparked an interest in personal privacy; then came the development of computers and 20 years later, personal computers in a variety of private and public spaces around the world with connectivity to the World Wide Web, which brought renewed interest to the subject of privacy. Citizens’ concerns regarding large organizations and government throughout the years has not been so much about technology advancements, but more about the shifting balance that has seen the government knowing more about us and our personal lives than we know about our government. “A free and democratic society requires respect for the autonomy of individuals, and limits on the power of both state and private organizations to intrude on that autonomy…Privacy is a key value which underpins human dignity and other key values such as freedom of association and freedom of speech…Privacy is a basic human right and the reasonable expectation of every person”.

Overview of Canadian Legislation

An overview of privacy legislation in Canada shows commitment, by way of the number of laws in Canada that relate to privacy rights, with various government organizations and agencies responsible for overseeing legal compliance. Canada’s two federal privacy laws are the Privacy Act (PA) and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The PA covers the personal information-handling practices of federal government departments and agencies while the PIPEDA covers the federal private-sector privacy law. The office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada oversees compliance with both the PA and PIPEDA. “Every province and territory has its own public-sector legislation and the relevant provincial act that applies to provincial government agencies, not the PA”. Where I reside, in Alberta, the public sector legislation is the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP), the private sector has substantially similar legislation to PIPEDA, the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) allowing it to apply instead.

Other provinces such as British Columbia and Quebec also have private sector legislation. Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have privacy legislation which applies to health information that has been declared substantially similar to PIPEDA with respect to health information custodians. Alberta has separate legislation to protect Albertans’ Personal Health Information, the Health Information Act (HIA). It is the responsibility of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta to perform the legislative and regulatory responsibilities set out in Alberta’s three access and privacy laws, FOIP, PIPA and HIA.



U of A: EXIAPP8173:Privacy in a Liberal Democracy, Module 1, Fall 2018, Page6 of 24

U of A: EXIAPP8173:Privacy in a Liberal Democracy, Module 1, Fall 2018, Page 24 of 24, Define, ‘Privacy’

U of A: EXIAPP8173:Privacy in a Liberal Democracy, Module 1, Fall 2018, Page 18 of 24 (2017-2018 Annual Report)

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