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    Op-Ed by Michael Geist: State Farm challenges Canada’s privacy law in court

    In the Toronto Star, privacy expert Michael Geist has an opinion column about the implications of a privacy law case in Canada:

    Later this month, the Federal Court of Canada will hear a case in Halifax that threatens Canada’s privacy law framework. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. is contesting the constitutional validity of Canada’s private sector privacy legislation (PIPEDA), arguing it oversteps the federal government’s jurisdictional power. If successful, PIPEDA would no longer apply to thousands of Canadian businesses and new legislation such as the Electronic Commerce Protection Act (ECPA) would be imperilled.

    The case stems from a dispute over an insurance claim arising from a March 2005 automobile accident. Gerald Gaudet, the injured party, asked State Farm to provide copies of all names, addresses and phone numbers of anyone to whom it disclosed his personal information (State Farm had used a private investigator to conduct surveillance on Gaudet). After State Farm refused to disclose the information, Gaudet filed a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. […]

    State Farm raises several issues in contesting the disclosure demands, but it is the constitutional arguments where the stakes are the highest. The constitutional question has dogged Canadian privacy law since it was first introduced, with the federal government arguing the Constitution grants it legislative authority to make laws in relation to trade and commerce. […]

    This is not the first time PIPEDA’s constitutionality has been raised. Days before it was scheduled to take effect in 2003, the Quebec government initiated its own constitutional challenge. That case is ongoing but has remained largely dormant. […]

    PIPEDA was viewed as controversial when it was first introduced more than a decade ago. It is now well entrenched within Canadian law, but the State Farm case presents a tough test that could radically alter privacy protections in Canada.

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