As 2011 came to a close and 2012 was about to begin, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) entered into its 25th year of existence. Personally, it has been quite a journey for me since the autumn of 1987, when I first joined the IPC as the first Director of Compliance. For the last two-and-a-half decades, I have had the pleasure of working at the IPC, the last 14 years of which I have had the honour of serving as Commissioner. During that time I have seen many significant changes in both the access and privacy spheres — primarily arising from unprecedented advances in information and communications technology.
So much has happened over the years I have spent here, from the time the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act was enacted in 1990, to the passing of the Personal Health Information Protection Act in 2004, and the adoption of Privacy by Design as an International Standard. There is so much I could say about our accomplishments. The thousands of phone calls my office deals with each year — the long lists of media interviews, research and policy development, privacy investigations and appeals, speeches and white papers — all the work that goes into our website, cannot be given the proper accolades in this short space. I encourage you to visit our website at www.ipc.on.ca as I think the results will speak for themselves.
As the IPC begins its 25th year of service to the people of Ontario, I find myself concerned for the future of access and privacy. However, I remain confident that our right to access government-held information and the protection of our privacy will continue to be safeguarded by those who understand and appreciate the role access and privacy plays in our free and democratic society. In a perfect world, there would be no need for my office, but we do not live in a perfect world, and we have people such as my staff and the thousands of other access and privacy professionals around the world to thank, for their unceasing work in protecting our cherished rights.
Looking forward, I can say with certainty that one of the biggest challenges to access and privacy will come from the increasingly complex evolution of information and communications technology. However, I believe the greatest challenge will come not from technological advances, but from apathy. We have the resources and tools to transform the same technological advances that threaten access and privacy into ones that promote access and protect privacy, such as Privacy by Design and Access by Design. Yet, these will mean nothing if we do not remain committed to the protection of those rights.
Therefore, we must remain Ever Vigilant. We must capitalize on our advances and continue to press for change within each of our countries, jurisdictions and organizations. We must remain committed to the ideals of access and privacy. We can never rest on our laurels and allow our hard-fought rights to disappear through complacency. That would be a fundamental error, setting a precedent capable of unwinding centuries of progress in the evolution of freedom. Access and privacy rights are fundamental to our freedom and liberty. To quote the ancient philosopher Plato, “The penalty good men [and women] pay for indifference to public affairs, is to be ruled by tyrants.” Let that not be our legacy.
Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D.
Information and Privacy Commissioner