Canadian Court Orders Cross-Border Privacy Investigation

As I’ve noted in past posts, privacy and internet law often overlap. In a very interesting Federal Court decision on Monday, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has been ordered to re-open its investigation into the privacy practices of an American company. A Canadian complainant asked the Privacy Commissioner to investigate Accusearch Inc. for possible violations of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). In 2005, the Privacy Commissioner’s office closed its file after concluding that it lacked the jurisdiction to investigate a foreign company. In coming to this decision, the Commissioner stated that “Canadian legislation will only apply to the persons, property, juridical acts and events that occur within the territorial boundaries of the enacting body’s jurisdiction.” That decision was appealed to the Federal Court, resulting in Monday’s judgement.

The Federal Court disagreed with the Commissioner and clearly stated that “PIPEDA gives the Privacy Commissioner jurisdiction to investigate complaints relating to the transborder flow of personal information.” The court also noted that absent an investigation and a corresponding report, the complainant’s avenue to an award of damages would be closed. Citing Pro Swing v. Elta, the court noted that “A money judgment may be enforced in another jurisdiction.” This is a curious observation, since Pro Swing is a Canadian decision about enforcement of a foreign judgement in Canada, and any possible order against Accusearch would involve the enforcement of a Canadian judgment in the US, a matter for a U.S. court to decide. This decision will open the door to investigations of foreign companies and will result in some interesting enforcement challenges.

Calgary – 21:28 MST

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