Privacy commissioner calls for 'robust framework' around use of AI

'Clear and effective guardrails are needed to ensure the benefits of AI don't come at the cost of Ontarians' privacy’

Privacy commissioner calls for 'robust framework' around use of AI

Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner, Patricia Kosseim, is calling on the Ontario government to put in place a “robust framework” to govern the public sector's use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

While these tools offer “tremendous” opportunities to accelerate the delivery of government services and improve health, education and public safety, if left unchecked, they can pose a serious threat to privacy and other human rights, says the commissioner, adding these technologies often rely on large volumes of personal information, which must be lawfully collected, fairly and equitably representative, and properly protected. 

"Together with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, we urge the government to continue showing leadership by pressing forward with a robust, granular and binding framework for the responsible use of artificial intelligence technologies by public sector organizations," said Patricia Kosseim, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

"Clear and effective guardrails are needed to ensure the benefits of AI don't come at the cost of Ontarians' privacy and other fundamental human rights. Ontarians might want their public sector institutions to deploy AI technologies for the public good, but only if it is safe, transparent, accountable, and ethically responsible. Ultimately, innovative uses of AI must be supported and sustained by public trust."

Stronger privacy protections for workers

The recommendation is included in the 2022 annual report of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC).

The IPC's 2022 annual report also has a recommendation around electronic monitoring of employees.

The commissioner notes that many employers have stepped up their efforts to supervise and measure the performance of workers through electronic surveillance tools, known as "bossware," with the rise of remote work.

And while the Ontario government did make it mandatory for employers of a certain size to be transparent about their use of electronic workplace monitoring through workplace policies, the IPC is calling for “clearer statutory boundaries around employers' use of such tools, effective oversight of privacy rights and obligations in Ontario's employment sector, and an independent mechanism for addressing employee privacy complaints.”

Digital identity systems, PHIPA reforms

The privacy commissioner is also calling on the government to ensure that any plans to introduce a digital ID system in Ontario ensure that it is “optional and equitably accessible to all.”

These systems should only collect, use, or share the minimum amount of personal information needed to confirm identity and must not allow tracking or tracing of credential use for other purposes, it said.

And while the IPC commends the government for moving forward with public consultation on regulations to support administrative penalties under the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA), it also “strongly urges” the government to move forward with fully implementing all of the other PHIPA reforms adopted back in 2019 and 2020 that are still awaiting proclamation or the adoption of regulation. These include requirements for electronic audit logs, consumer electronic services providers, and de-identification standards.

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