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Canadian global leadership on data protection

For this issue, we made an unusual decision. Vivek Narayanadas, the lawyer we featured on our cover, is not a Canadian lawyer. He went to law school in the United States and works there still.

Tim Wilbur

For this issue, we made an unusual decision. Vivek Narayanadas, the lawyer we featured on our cover, is not a Canadian lawyer. He went to law school in the United States and works there still.

But we chose him because he represents something very important about Canada and about the theme of this issue: data protection and privacy.

Narayanadas works for Shopify, which is one of Canada’s current leaders in high tech. Shopify is playing in the big leagues and that means hiring a top privacy and data protection lawyer like Narayanadas to keep up with the ever-shifting legal landscape in this area.

“We have 800,000 merchants and each of them have interpretations of GDPR or maybe in a different vertical that has additional requirements,” Narayanadas told us, “and it is our job to build a platform that they can use out of the box and be compliant with however aggressively or conservatively they are approaching the law.”

California, where Narayanadas is located, is the most recent jurisdiction to create a privacy legal regime that global businesses need to be aware of. And with all the digital innovation occurring in Canada, that is a lot of Canadian businesses, too. And they all need good legal advice.

Canadian law is just one part of that, of course. Canada is currently lagging in privacy protection, but the GDPR in Europe and California’s impending legal regime is keeping many Canadian businesses up at night. The Liberals have just released their “Digital Charter” that may eventually mean that Canada will also be enforcing strict rules on data protection. And as Commissioner of Competition Matthew Boswell told us, “at the end of the five years . . . I would like us to be recognized as one of the leading competition law enforcement agencies in the world — particularly with respect to the enforcement of competition laws in the digital economy.”

In the United States, it is not just Californian legislators who are creating a headache for tech companies in what used to be the digital Wild West. The New York Times recently reported that the U.S. federal government is stepping up its scrutiny of the world’s biggest tech companies, leaving them vulnerable to new rules and federal lawsuits. “Regulators are divvying up antitrust oversight of the Silicon Valley giants and lawmakers are investigating whether they have stifled competition and hurt consumers,” the Times reports.

While Canadian companies are not on these regulators’ radar like the Facebooks, Googles and Amazons of the world, companies such as Shopify should not be complacent. Narayanadas will be closely following what these regulators are up to. And as Canada’s new crop of tech innovators comes up, they should have no hesitation to hire top U.S. lawyers like Narayanadas to advise them as well.

But Canadian lawyers shouldn’t fret that they are losing the work. Once the Canadian authorities start to crack down on privacy and data protection, the U.S. companies will no doubt be calling north of the border for legal advice, too.

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