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article imagePrivacy issues need watching with online pot sales in Canada

By Karen Graham     Aug 20, 2018 in Politics
Ottawa - People who buy recreational marijuana online after legalization goes into effect in Canada this fall should be able to rely on the Federal government's two privacy laws to protect their online information, but the issue needs to be watched closely.
Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner and now an expert at Ryerson University said in an interview that privacy issues are important because of the stigma many people still feel over using marijuana.
And for Canadians crossing the border into the United States, there is the fear that private information on marijuana use will become known to American border agents, potentially barring their entrance into the country.
"We need to keep eyes on it, meaning we have to make sure this information is not abused or used for secondary purposes that were never intended," Cavoukian said. "Theoretically, it should not be used for any other purpose."
According to Leaf News, a spokeswoman for federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said the office has not looked specifically at online marijuana sales, but the office certainly understands the privacy concerns surrounding buying and using marijuana, given its status as a controlled substance for years.
"The legal sale and use of both medicinal and recreational marijuana raises privacy issues, particularly since laws and regulations differ from country to country and even within countries," Tobi Cohen said. "We have repeatedly raised concerns about the effectiveness of (Canada's two privacy laws) in the digital age and have called for both laws to be strengthened."
Federal privacy laws
Canada's two federal privacy laws, enforced by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada are as follows"
The Privacy Act, which covers how the federal government handles personal information;
The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which covers how businesses handle personal information.
The second privacy law, PIPEDA is supposed to protect the personal information held by private sector organizations that are not federally regulated, and conduct business in Canada's provinces and territories. Federally-regulated organizations that conduct business in Canada are always subject to PIPEDA and must also apply the act to their employees’ personal information.
A grouping of marijuana buds  pictured above on April 13  2014.
A grouping of marijuana buds, pictured above on April 13, 2014.
Ontario's online marijuana sales
Ontario is expected to be the largest cannabis market in North America after California, reports the Toronto Star. Last week, the new Progressive Conservative government revealed the province would not have any legal pot stores until April 2019.
Ontario will have a government agency called the Ontario Cannabis Store to run the online sales with a private e-commerce provider Shopify, also being involved. Buyers will have to provide a name along with email and delivery address, and payment information.
Additionally, the buyer will need to provide proof of age via government-issued ID, which a delivery person will verify but not copy. The cannabis store website will have data security and privacy controls “aligned with global e-commerce best practice,” said Scott Blodgett, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance.
While spelling out how pot will be sold online in the province, the Ontario government has also taken steps to suppress marijuana use, allowing municipalities to ban pot stores, outlawed pot lounges, and prohibited pot use except in private residences.
The privacy question in online sales comes down to this: With any online sales, people have the right to know how their personal information will be used. Among other things, that means spelling out why the information is needed, how it will be used, who it might be shared with, and how long it will be stored.
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