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Source: dotCommerce Magazine

Posted on November 12, 2001

      George Radwanski has this advice for organizations wondering what to make of this country's work-in-progress privacy law: Change the way electronic information on current and prospective customers is gathered and used because it's not going to disappear.

      Speaking at the eCustomer World conference in Toronto on Tuesday, Canada's privacy commissioner outlined the impact the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (known as Bill C-6) will have on business.

      The act, which is being phased in over a three-year period, will be in full effect by January 2004. The first stage applies to personal information collected and used by federally-regulated organizations such as banks and telecommunications and transportation companies.

      By next January, it will be prohibitive for those same organizations to ask or collect information about an individual's mental or physical health. Finally, on Jan. 1 2004, Bill C-6 will be extended to include personal information collected by any organization.

      Canadians, said Radwanski, are far less tolerant today of anyone breaching or otherwise interfering with their privacy.

      "Look at some of the most notable privacy-related public relations of the past few years," he said. "Things like cookies, Web bugs and the infamous Longitudinal Labour Force File set up by Human Resources Development Canada.

      The latter was an electronic databank that used Big Brother-type tactics to cross-reference information from Canada Customs and Revenue Canada for policy development and research purposes. It was dismantled in May 2000 by the government following a wrath of complaints from both the public and the media.

      Organizations, said Radwanski, will need to realize that people don't like it when their personal information is collected and used without their knowledge or permission.

      "This is something you have to pay close attention to when you're talking about things such as customer relationship management. These new approaches to marketing require that businesses capture, analyze and store large amounts of personal information.

      "To get new customers you have to find them. To keep customers, you have to know them, but an increasing number are saying they don't want to be known. The key is going to be getting that information without driving them away."

      To that end, privacy can no longer be an "afterthought," but should be part of a company's customer relations strategy and overall business plan from the outset, he said.

      Radwanski suggested that organizations conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment before implementing any type of software system or Web-based initiative that might be used to track existing customers and find new ones.

      "This is an approach that's increasingly popular," he said. "People in government and the private sector have learned that it's money and time well spent if it helps them avoid the costs, adverse publicity, and loss of credibility and public confidence that could result from a system that hurts privacy."

      Bill C-6 is based on a protection of personal information code drawn up by the Canadian Standards Association.

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