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Privacy commissioner calls for modernization of Ontario privacy laws

Brian Beamish, Ontario’s privacy commissioner calls for the city to modernize its privacy laws to address the risks that are posed by smart city tech.

He particularly called for a review of the Freedom of Information and Protection Privacy Act.

In his 2018 report titled ‘Privacy and Accountability for a Digital Ontario’, Beamish outlined an array of recommendations and initiatives which could be implemented to enhance privacy protection and the access to information within the city of Ontario.

“The technologies available today have the potential to unlock many benefits for communities and enable governments to deliver services more effectively and efficiently,” said Beamish.

“However, they can collect, use and generate large amounts of data, including personal information. The use of data and technology must not come at the expense of privacy. Ontario needs an updated legislative framework that includes effective and independent oversight of practices related to personal information,” he added.

Among his other recommendations was a call for stricter oversight of political parties with regards to the large volume of personal information which in some cases, can be particularly sensitive, and that they should correlate with the latest emerging tech around collecting, integrating and analyzing data.

He essentially called for political parties to be subject to the privacy laws.

Beamish’s report read: “Sophisticated data practices can be used to target individuals, manipulate public opinion and influence election outcomes. The risk of breaches, both intentional and through human error, rises with the use of big data technology.”

Another concept he highlighted was the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to stop data breaches from happening within the health sector. In fact, he noted in his report that AI is able to identify anomalities in network systems, no matter how small. AI could signal privacy breaches as they are happening and can also be used to understand and interpret network activity more accurately than other mechanisms such as manual auditing.

“I would like to see the widespread use of Ai to address the ongoing problem of unauthorized access in the health sector.”

This report comes as Google’s Sidewalk Labs released its plan for smart city developments in Toronto, which was received with a lot of skepticism. The part of the controversial report which highlighted the potential use of data became highly speculated.

The company previously proposed their idea of a government-sanctioned independent urban data trust which would act as a watchdog for “every single use of urban data in the district. We are quite convinced that what we have proposed exceeds, quite substantially, existing Canadian and Ontario privacy laws.”

“We will not use personal information for advertising. We will not disclose personal information to third parties without explicit consent,” said Sidewalk Labs CEO, Dan Doctoroff, in reference to the launch of the draft master innovation and development plan (MIDP).

He continued, “That said, we also expect government to determine what the appropriate regime will be. We are absolutely prepared to comply with whatever regulatory or legal regime that they think is warranted.”