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.

Québec Court Rejects Privacy-related Class Action Filed After Loss of Laptop

The Québec Superior Court recently rendered judgment in the matter of Lamoureux c. Organisme canadien de réglementation du commerce des valeurs mobilières (2021 QCCS 1093), further to a class action resulting from the loss of a portable computer containing personal information.

Contrary to what often happens with such class actions, this one did make it through the whole process, up to and including an actual judgment on the merits of the case. In the end, the Québec Superior Court rejects the claims, including those for ordinary damages as well as the claim for punitive damages. In doing so, however, the court does provide us with some principles that seem worth remembering.

This case stems from the loss of a portable computer by an employee of the defendant, a non-encrypted device which contained sensitive information about certain individuals. Even though these individuals may have worried and have been somewhat anxious at the thought of having their identities stolen, the court held that this was, in and of itself, insufficient to qualify as a real prejudice at law. As often happens is such cases, the judge found that more was required before the legal system would be required to intervene, including by awarding monetary compensation.

The class representative in this case was also alleging that certain attempts had been made to steal his identity, something more likely to deserve redress by the court. However, the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate causation between the fault of the defendant (in handling his data and the incident at issue) and such attempted identity theft. Given this absence of a causal link between the fault and the alleged damages, the court also rejected this portion of the claim.

Interestingly enough, this case provides us with a good example of the steps taken by an organization faced with a loss of data and which the court validates as appropriate under the circumstances. The defendant organization here performed an adequate inquiry, hired a specialized consultant, notified the privacy authorities, and notified potential victims. The organization also paid for credit-report surveillance services for these individuals, all of which lead the Superior Court judge to also reject this final claim (for punitive damages), given that the steps taken were adequate under the circumstances.