Column: Effort To Protect Personal Information

October 2, 2015

[Opinion column written by Senator Vic Ball]

Suddenly, and largely because of the growth of online commerce and the internet, protection of your right to keep your personal information private is a hot topic around the world.

One of the ways people are fighting back against criminals, hackers, mischief-makers, and people who are just plain careless is to set out in legislation what can and cannot happen to personal information that can become available on the world wide web – or that is collected by companies and organisations in the course of their business with you.

That the public understand the importance of this proposed new legislation is confirmed by the fact that in a survey undertaken by Government’s Department of e-Commerce, 97% of those surveyed believed it was important to protect their personal information.

Since Bermuda is one of the most switched-on countries where use of the internet is concerned, we ought to know! [Another e-Commerce Survey published very recently showed that 99% of businesses here have internet access, 89% of households have access to the internet, 98% of residents use the internet from any location at least once a week, and 85% of households own a smartphone.]

Bermuda’s proposed version of this legislative protection is called the Personal Information Protection Act, or PIPA. While work on it was begun by the previous government, five years ago, it has now been advanced through the efforts of the Department of E-Commerce and Dr Grant Gibbons, the Minister of Economic Development.

He announced in the House of Assembly in July that work on the legislation was progressing strongly, describing it as “a milestone in the protection of the rights of the residents of Bermuda.”

Public comment on a draft of the Act was invited and public meetings were held in August, to allow the public to have a say about its features. Local lawyers, anxious on their clients’ behalf, or their potential clients’ behalf, to understand the ramifications of the legislation, were also present at the public meetings.

Organisations in Bermuda which have an online presence, as well as those who don’t, will have a responsibility under the new legislation to protect customers and others from the misuse of information collected in the course of doing business.

Dr Gibbons says that much positive feedback has been received by the E-Commerce Department. Some of that feedback is being incorporated in the PIPA which is now being written, and which is due to be introduced and debated in the House of Assembly in the autumn.

One of the interesting aspects of this new legislation is its interaction with the Public Access to Information [PATI] legislation which came into effect earlier this year. One of the ways proposed to ensure the two pieces of information legislation work well together is to make the PATI Commissioner also responsible for the administration of PIPA.

The legislation will reflect accepted international standards and will take into account Bermuda’s economic interests and regulatory environment. This has been a difficult task, as the international privacy landscape keeps evolving and technology developments create new challenges in this area.

It is intended that the legislation will cover personal information, especially that which is considered “sensitive”, disclosing such details as race, religion or sexual orientation that could be used to discriminate against someone. It will also cover the use of children’s personal information.

Bermuda’s legislation will be designed specifically for Bermuda, not least because we have specific needs. The international privacy landscape is complex, and poses challenges in particular for international companies operating across jurisdictions with differing privacy regimes.

For this reason many countries, especially those in the European Union, now operate a test of privacy protection Adequacy. Organisations based in countries whose legislation is deemed Adequate may, when necessary, freely transfer personal information between them.

As more countries adopt privacy legislation this network of trusted countries becomes larger and those outside it are at a commercial disadvantage. Our PIPA legislation is being prepared so that an application for Adequacy can be made to allow Bermuda also to be seen as having Adequate legislation.

Thus, the adoption of privacy legislation will help in maintaining Bermuda’s competitive advantage, by promoting Bermuda as a jurisdiction that may be trusted to protect personal information and will bring our country into line with many of our competitor jurisdictions and potential markets.

Want a good example of why the Government’s working to protect your privacy? Go and look at this short, funny but slightly ominous video.

- Vic Ball


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