This paper examines two enactments of public policy in practice, the Saskatchewan Automobile Injury Appeal Commission’s (AIAC) posting of sensitive personal information on the Internet and the government (Saskatchewan and Alberta) sale of personal motor vehicle registration (MVR) information. The continued existence of these practices is counter-intuitive, given the volume and variety of privacy legislation passed in the last two decades. The paper argues that these policies are the products of gaps between legislative intention and subsequent action taken by non-accountable entities.
Through examining the arguments and actions sustaining these specific public policies, as well as the limited conception of privacy embedded in legislation, this paper arrives at three essential conclusions. First, that privacy legislation does not possess the substance that its title implies. At best, privacy legislation places minimal restrictions on the use of personal data. While there are opportunities to strengthen privacy protection, through legislation, a culture of respect for citizen privacy is also needed. Second, neither the actions of the AIAC nor those selling MVR data can trace explicit authorization for these practices to legislation. Both policies have been created by non-accountable entities; administrators with respect to the AIAC and most recently the judiciary with respect to MVR information. These are essentially public policies from nowhere, where actions are taken without corresponding accountability and responsibility. Third, Legislatures, where one expects accountability and responsibility to reside, have been able to resist involvement in these issues due, in part, to the absence of public pressure. The paper argues that the lack of pressure from the public is the product of the way the issues are framed by “experts”, the noise of expert-speak, media indifference and pubic policy emerging from nowhere. These elements combine to make the issues appear mysterious and disconnected. Through tracing the connections that link actual actions taken to create and sustain these public policies, this paper seeks to reduce the mystery and create a space for public involvement.