Quite conveniently, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission allows citizens to comment on ongoing matters through their website. Unfortunately, the privacy protections employed in relation to the submissions are lacking. Their website says the following:
The information you provide to the Commission as part of a public process (i.e. comments, interventions or observations) is entered into an unsearchable database dedicated to that specific public process. This database is accessible only from the webpage of that particular public process. As a result, a general search of our website with the help of either our own search engine or a third-party search engine will not provide access to the information which was provided as part of a public process.
This doesn’t seem to be true. Searching for my own name in Google brings up the submissions I made to them opposing Bell’s efforts to introduce Usage Based Billing (UBB). The submission includes my full name, personal email address, and phone number.
I complained electronically to the CRTC about this, but got no response. I then sent a letter to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, with a carbon copy to them. At the very least, the CRTC should obscure email addresses and phone numbers in a way that prevents robots from harvesting them. For instance, obfuscated email addresses can be made to look normal for standard browsers, but like gibberish for most robots. Alternatively, the CRTC could provide a web contact form that lets people contact submitters, without learning their email address. I have no problem with submissions being made public, in the interest of transparency. If it is going to happen, however, people should be clearly informed about it on the page where they submit the information (not some separate privacy information page) and reasonable efforts should be taken to prevent the inappropriate collection of personal information by either people or automated systems.