Privacy and transparency in a modern government

The transparency challenge

On International Right to Know Day 2022, the IPC launched a Transparency Challenge, calling on public institutions subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) to share their innovative programs that improve government transparency for the benefit of Ontarians.

We invited creative examples of programs that modernize and improve government transparency, promote civic engagement, and show how proactive disclosure and open data initiatives can have tangible and positive impacts. The Transparency Challenge provided a way to increase awareness and understanding of the benefits of proactive disclosure and open data in improving the day-to-day lives of Ontarians.

Institutions rose to the challenge and submitted many exciting and innovative projects. These submissions, from provincial ministries and agencies, municipalities, universities, and police services, were featured in a digital Transparency Showcase, unveiled in spring 2023. The showcase illustrates compelling examples to help encourage and inspire other public institutions toward greater openness and transparency.

FPT digital ID resolution

Proposals for digital identity or other forms of digital credentials are emerging in Canada and around the world to make it easier for individuals, businesses, and governments to confirm identity information and conduct online transactions more seamlessly and efficiently.

In October, the IPC joined its federal, provincial, and territorial counterparts to call on governments and relevant partners to ensure that privacy and transparency rights are respected throughout the design, operation, and evolution of digital identity ecosystems in Canada. Privacy and transparency must be at the core of any digital ID system people will trust and adopt. The joint resolution set out the conditions necessary for nurturing that trust. Among these conditions:

Digital ID systems should be optional and equitably accessible to all. They should only collect, use, or share the minimum amount of personal information needed to confirm identity and must not be used to create any central databases. They shouldn’t force people to identify themselves when it isn’t necessary to access a product or service and must not allow tracking or tracing of credential use for other purposes.

These systems must be secured from identity theft, fraud or other harms, and, most importantly, governments and organizations must be held accountable for their use and subject to independent oversight.

Trustworthy AI frameworks

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence (AI) offer tremendous opportunities to address many of society’s most complex problems across all sectors of society. AI technologies can be used to fast-track the delivery of government services, solve major public health issues, and reconfigure our cities. They can improve public safety, respond to global emergencies, enhance commercial innovation, and bolster our economy.

Yet, without appropriate guardrails, AI technologies risk crossing the lines beyond what Ontarians consider legally, socially, and ethically acceptable. Irresponsible uses of AI can trample privacy and other fundamental human rights by attempting to predict human behaviour and making consequential decisions based on potentially flawed predictions. AItechnologies have begun generating new “machine-made” knowledge, images and voices that call into question the integrity and accuracy of information as we know it. They can persuade and nudgee our behaviour in ways that can potentially jeopardize our fundamental sense of human agency. In July, Commissioner Kosseim wrote a blog, Privacy and humanity on the brink, outlining the risks inherent in too-rapidly adopting information technologies, especially when combined with biotechnologies, and the significant impacts these can have on our future generations.

In her blog, the commissioner urged the government to intensify its consultation efforts, particularly among marginalized groups and communities that are most impacted by algorithmic decision-making. She also called for increased investments into developing the capacity required to carry out privacy and human rights impact assessments. This includes practical educational guidance to support institutions and organizations in carrying out these assessments, funding for interdisciplinary research into thethe ethical, legal, and social impacts of AI, and foresight methodologies to anticipate and address future scenarios.

In 2021, the government considered an approach to govern public sector use of AI systems in a discussion paper Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI) Framework to which our office responded. We urge the government to pursue its consultations on a trustworthy framework for AI and resume its leadership stance in this critically important area. A comprehensive legal or policy framework is urgently needed to govern public and private sector use of artificial intelligence within clear and transparent boundaries that align with Ontarians’ rights and values, and, fundamentally, in a way that Ontarians can trust.