Digital and Data Consultation Summary: September 12, 2018—Regina, SK

Hosted by Francis Bilodeau, ADM, Chief Information Officer Branch, TBS
Area of Focus: Trust and Privacy

Highlights of Discussion

Canada’s regulatory framework needs to ensure a balance between protecting data privacy and fostering innovation through data use. Developing appropriate digital frameworks is not just a national, but a global conversation, as Canadians are able to participate in digital activities beyond our borders. Canada must consider how to best position itself in global digital conversations, and should also continue to learn from other jurisdictions. Some of Canada’s actions in this space may be driven by trading partner requirements, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The fiscal aspects of data (ie: taxation potential) are also currently unclear.

Canada’s digital framework laws and regulations need to be agile enough to adapt to rapidly changing economic and social dynamics. Interpretation of digital framework laws and regulations can vary however, and strict interpretation can impede both innovation and research activity.

Ensuring transparency and consent regarding data use is important. Organizations and businesses are becoming very good at the technical aspects of data collection and mining. Artificial Intelligence (AI) advances are increasingly providing the means by which firms, institutions and government can conduct predictive analytics regarding consumer, student and citizen behaviour. However, the moral and ethical implications of using this technology need to be adequately addressed. Individuals need to understand what information is being collected and why, and be given an opportunity to opt out. It was also suggested that individuals can often seem to have a higher tolerance for companies having and using their data as opposed to government.

In addition to the need to ensure data privacy, consideration needs to be given to issues of data retention/archiving and data destruction. This is particularly true when working with data vendors and partners. One path forward is to clarify in advance data privacy expectations. Sectors such as post-secondary and health were noted as having rich, deep databases.

There is a need to ensure digital skills and training, and to consider them in the context of other workplace skills. A pitch was made to ensuring coding is part of the education curriculum at all levels and for all disciplines due to the impact that digital work will have in all occupations. Technical knowledge itself is perhaps less important than knowing how to work and interface with technologies, since technologies themselves are always changing. Skills beyond technical knowledge are also important, such as ability to work as part of a diverse (skills) team to solve complex problems.

Key Opportunities / Considerations / Challenges

Adopting Digital Framework Laws and Regulations
G20 countries such as Canada have significant legacy infrastructure investments which can lead to complacency in the status quo and challenges in quickly shifting to meet new demands. It is unclear how quickly can Canada adopt appropriate digital frameworks and laws, particularly those that can be made ‘future-ready’. There may also be lessons to be learned from developing nations who have been able to rapidly adapt to new digital technologies.
Data Ownership
If individuals had more control over their data, this could open up opportunities for them to more fully monetize their data (ie: selling tweets) and to provide data for research purposes, such as in the health sector. Early moves towards individual control of data are evident in efforts to ensure the right to be forgotten. A caution was provided however that in the pre-digital data collection era, there was no expectation of individual data ownership. Additionally, individual data ownership would likely pose challenging to implement on a retroactive basis.  
Digital Literacy
There’s a need to ensure digital literacy, which includes data privacy, security and ethics. Youth today may have strong digital familiarity (‘digital natives’), but it’s unclear whether they have strong digital literacy as well. It was suggested for example, that youth may be less concerned than older individuals about ensuring data privacy. It’s also unclear whether today’s youth will be able to adapt to and adopt new technologies as they age, or whether they are simply well-versed in the current suite of today’s dominant technologies. North Dakota has included digital literacy curriculum (such as data management and security) into its education curriculum at all levels.
Sensors can be cheap, and often insecure. Hooking up an insecure sensor to a secure digital network can leave the network exposed. There is also the issue of who owns sensor data, particularly since sensor data can often be used not only for its designed use, but for other applications as well.
Digital Adoption in Canada
Canada’s relatively poor performance in technology adoption by firms and government is concerning. Unclear whether there is appetite to discuss and debate digital issues within society at large.
Intellectual Property
Aside from a few industries with regulatory protection, creative ideas don’t generally have a very long shelf life. Once information is in the public domain, it gets copied and replicated very quickly. Some firms may not want to participate in open source activities due to an inability to protect proprietary innovations.
Digital Access
Important to ensure all Canadians benefit from the digital economy, including rural and remote communities. The SaskPower/SaskTel partnership in northern Saskatchewan is an innovative example on how to supply digital infrastructure in remote areas. These two provincial Crown corporations hold social policy goals – such as ensuring rural service delivery - as part of their respective mandates.
Open Data
Recognition that working in the open, such as crowd sourcing, provides transparency but also exposes organizations to increased scrutiny and attention. In the post-secondary sector, institutions are being challenged to ensure data privacy while also adhering to tri-council funding requirements meant to facilitate access to open data.

Ideas / Outcomes

Individual Responsibility for Data Protection
Government can sometimes take a paternalistic view on data protection, not necessarily trusting individuals to protect their data. However, technological means exist for personal data management, such as Crosscloud. Also, individuals are already used to protecting their data, such as keeping credit card information safe. It was also suggested that individuals are increasingly cautious about posting personal information, as this information might be used to determine hiring and admissions decisions, setting insurance premiums, etc. Education could be used to foster knowledge of data privacy issues.
Digital Identity Framework
Promising efforts are underway to ensure the appropriate frameworks exist to govern digital identities, such as the MyAlberta Digital Identity pilot (in collaboration with federal government). The federal government is also looking to establish a single-window sign-in portal (‘Sign-in Canada’). This is challenging however given current information-sharing regulations both between departments as well as between different levels of government. It was noted that a challenge with the Pan-Canadian Trust Framework is that it is working with existing governance frameworks as opposed to considering change to the policy frameworks themselves.
To facilitate cybersecurity adoption activities, the federal government could consider partnerships with provinces and territories to boost skills & capacity related to cybersecurity using other FPT labour/skills agreements as a model.
Government Use of Digital Technologies
While respecting privacy considerations, the federal government should continue to consider how to use digital technologies to improve service delivery and policy development. Some crowd sourcing is already being used for policy development. The use of sensors could be considered for assessing the current situation on various issues. Future government economic stimulus programs could also consider opportunities for digital infrastructure development.

Attendee List

  1. Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
  2. Innovation Saskatchewan
  3. University of Regina
  4. University of Saskatchewan
  5. SaskTel
  6. Cisco Systems Research Chair
  7. Information Services Corp
  8. Saskatchewan Polytechnic