Québec Personal Information Watchdog’s New Virtual Space Seeks to Explain Bill 68

After adopting a new privacy statute last September, the province of Québec is moving to a more modern framework which individuals and businesses must now get to know. Even though the law will come into force gradually over the next 3 years, the scope of changes to rules as to personal information represent a challenge, as everyone must now try and understand a regime which is becoming much more complex, as compared to the very basic statute that applies in Québec since 1994.

It is in that context that the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec (the “CAI”) recently published on its Web site a virtual space meant to better explain the new statute. The section of the CAI site entitled “Espace évolutif – Projet de loi 64” seeks to explain to individuals and businesses some of the basics and some of the nuances of the new rules that will start applying in Québec next year. That space is divided between a general explanation about Bill 64, and a second portion mean to explain in detail individual provision of the new statute, as divided by specific themes like biometrics, data deidentification, etc.

Given how few Québec SMB’s pay real attention to the protection of personal information, tools like this new space certainly cannot hurt. Moving forward, it will be important in particular for Québec businesses not only to get acquainted with personal information protection, but also to really get to understand the new rules that will apply within the province of Québec.

Consistent with the attitude of the Québec government, at this point the space at issue is available solely in French.

Modifications to Bill 64 as Adoption in 2021 Remains Likely

The Québec bill proposing substantial amendments to an Act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector (Bill 64) keeps making progress through the legislative process, as  the parliamentary committee recently published its report, including by proposing further changes to that piece of legislation.

The commission proposed several modifications to the initial version of the bill, including the following:

  1. Creating certain new rights for individuals as to their personal information;
  2. Requiring businesses to check, beforehand, that information exported outside Québec would be protected by laws (in the other jurisdiction at issue) that are “adequate”;
  3. Adding an obligation to inform individuals of the actual identity of third-party businesses and partners to which the organization may be disclosing information (as opposed to merely disclosing the types of third parties);
  4. Allowing business to delegate the roles of their Chief Privacy Officer (as required under the bill), to someone outside the company, if they so choose (for example, to allow outsourcing of that function if no one in the company has the requisite expertise);
  5. Forcing businesses that use information that has been depersonalized, to take reasonable precaution against eventual use of such information to “reidentify” the individuals at issue;
  6. Allowing use of personal information, even without consent, for purposes of delivering products or providing services to the individuals at issue;
  7. Allowing use of personal information, even without consent, in the context of purchase-type corporate transactions, but also other commercial operations such as mergers, financings, etc.;
  8. Expressly adding to the Québec statute the possibility of settling claims against businesses that violated the statute, by having them enter into undertakings with authorities, as is allowed under the Federal statute;
  9. Modifying the amount of certain penalties provided by Bill 64, being understood however that the maximum penalty of $25M (or 4% of annual turnover) remains untouched;
  10. Limiting what business must provide to individuals who ask to see “their” own data, by excluding therefrom data that was indirectly produced or induced from the initial data actually provided by each individual.

It is generally agreed Bill 64 is likely to complete the legislative process in 2021, as its formal adoption seems more than likely to follow before the end of the year, with fairly minimal modifications being made to it between now and then.

Canada a Little Closer to Recognising Right to be Forgotten

The Federal Court recently issued a decision further to a reference triggered by the Privacy Commissioner and involving Google, and in particular the extent to which search engine may be considered businesses that are governed by rules pertaining to the protection of personal information. In short: yes, Google should be considered a normal business and, yes, search engines may be considered as holding and using personal information.

In practice, one consequence of the recent ruling at issue is that individuals the personal data of whom is held and displayed by the likes of Google, when third parties make searches on the Web, would seem to be covered by normal rules requiring that the information be up-to-date, exact and still relevant. In short, in certain cases, it could be that individuals may require search engines to stop their algorithms from referencing inaccurate or obsolete information.

Though the Federal Court decision at issue was technically NOT about the right to be forgotten, this judgment does open the way for Canadians to claim a right to deindexation of erroneous or obsolete Web search results, akin to the right to be forgotten that European law now grants citizens. This could happen with or without legislative changes to provide for it expressly.

Though people are already invoking the right to have stuff about them deindexed (by search engines), for now, providers like Google aren’t too keen to start recognizing that such a right does indeed exist in the U.S. or Canada. Now, as the Privacy Commissioner starts investigating and processing complaints about search engine results, to be seen whether a right to deindexation will indeed materialize in Canada, and how fast.