Digital and Data Roundtable Summary: June 19, 2018—Ottawa, ON

Hosted by Minister Bains and PS Lametti
Areas of Focus: All Action Areas

Highlights of Discussion

Data is a valuable resource and we must unlock its potential in order to support the growth of Canadian firms. However, data doesn't currently have the same protections as a commodity like oil would. Given its ubiquitous nature, its ability to traverse international borders with ease, it is a complex issue. And it is broad in scope. It is important to focus on targeted areas where Canada can truly be a leader.

Data is just data until it is harnessed. Globally, less than 1% of data created is analyzed due to a lack of mechanisms to capitalize on its potential. We are a country of SMEs, and breaking down barriers to reliable data can unlock new and exciting opportunities, particularly related to artificial intelligence (AI). We need to put energy in to early-stage start-ups that can develop from the group up and capitalize on the new data market. And we need to be more mindful of protecting and growing what we develop in Canada.

To benefit from data's potential for innovation, we must look at the areas we are able to exert control, and put in place measures to ensure it is used ethically. We must strike a balance between protecting the privacy and security of Canadians while allowing for innovative exploration. This requires looking at the nuanced matter of data ownership and consent. There also need to be clear, simple rules and guidance around data management legislation and regulation. Innovation and privacy should not be opposing forces, and with trust and good data management, should work in conjunction to underpin unleashing innovation.

Digital and data transformation is a global issue and we must work with international partners. These conversations will have ties to the G7's discussions around AI and its ongoing work as well as Canada's new membership in the Digital-7, a group which is currently focusing on digital rights. The D7 shares many priorities and can help provide insight and global knowledge sharing on issues like connectivity, data ownership and consent, new economic models, and nimble laws and regulation.

We need to look at the measures in the context of a global spectrum alongside countries like China and the US who utilize minimal controls over data ownership, and the EU with the newly implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which provides stringent control measures. Determining where Canada should fall along this spectrum is key. Situating itself on the global stage as a leader on data management, and other key digital industries including Artificial Intelligence (AI), would signal to the world we are open for business, attracting investment, and global talent. Canada has the capacity and competitive advantage through its diversity and skilled workforce to be a digital leader, however, we must act quickly.

Key Opportunities / Considerations / Challenges

Data Ownership and Consent
Key issues in data management are that of sovereignty, consent and transparency. Important questions exist around who owns data, individuals or businesses, and to what extent they control it. This could differ depending on the type of data as not all data is created equal. Different models of consent could be considered, varying from providing broad, long-term access versus providing more targeted control over specific facets of data. It is also important to put in place mechanisms that ensure transparency, reporting back to the user/consumer on how data is being used.
Data as a Commodity
Data is a valuable resource for businesses and raises questions of competition as data being used as an asset could be a barrier to entry for new firms. Considerations such as lower switching costs, data portability, and utilizing traditional competition policy could level the playing field.
Artificial Intelligence
Canada is seen as a global leader in AI and has opportunities to use AI technologies for ground-breaking applications and businesses across many sectors. However, the success of AI depends largely on providing large and unbiased data sources. If we are unable to provide the large data pools required to fuel AI, we run the risk of losing companies and investment to other markets, reducing innovation across the economy.
The EU's GDPR poses interesting questions around how it will impact Canadian businesses as well as how it holds up as a model for privacy and consent regulation. The GDPR may offer valuable lessons learned for Canada, and so we should continue to monitor how the policy evolves and functions over the long-term. However, caution should be taken in Canada to not create multiple GDPR-level frameworks or pursue a Canadian approach that adds seemingly new or varied requirements, which could cause confusion and potential misalignment in the global marketplace.
Canada's Privacy Legislation and Regulations
A number of Canadian companies, in particular SMEs, have expressed difficulty understanding how and when certain data and privacy legislation and regulations apply. This highlights the importance of clear messaging and communication outwards to those impacted by these measures. Canadian privacy legislation (PIPEDA) needs to be modernized and streamlined, and should be supported by clear guidance on implementation and applicability. The role of the Standards Council of Canada should also be considered in supporting voluntary standards approach that ease implementation.
Business must ensure internal systems and operational structures are secure which includes a multifaceted approach to security including establishing clarity around who is responsible for protecting what, building in security as a default, and adequate training.
Digital Skills
Digital skills, particularly around cloud computing, AI, and machine learning, are crucial for future of work and our success as a country. Young Canadians need access to digital learning before moving in to post-secondary education. In particular, better access is needed for underrepresented groups including women in STEM.
Digital Access
Need to ensure benefits of digital economy are accessible for all, and not just those in big cities. Access to high speed internet for indigenous, rural and remote communities is crucial as it allows for greater diversity and inclusion in Canada's digital economy.

Ideas / Outcomes

Medical Research
Healthcare provides a strong opportunity to showcase data capabilities and drive growth within health-care research, an area where Canada already excels. Through informed consent, researchers could access a national pool of anonymized health data, creating an incubator of machine learning and allowing for deeper data analytics on things such as medical and pharmaceutical trials. Negotiating access to international data could also provide opportunities for comparative research. This established pool would also make Canada an attractive market for global science researchers. This could help to build trust in data as it could show direct benefits to users, and help turn the medical sector in to a more proactive industry. This would require open and transparent data management.
Canadian Data Residency
Learning from the implementation of the GDPR, where businesses have expressed confusion around compliance and face strict consequences if they fail to meet the regulation, Canada could implement an audit and service model for its data management. Standards Council of Canada could create a standard around data management in-line with new modernized PIPEDA legislation. Third party auditors would then be authorized to verify that a company was in compliance and provide a certification which would provide confidence for both businesses and consumers. This has the potential to make Canada a market of choice for those looking to store and manage data.
Government Models
In building our own digital and data approach, we must look at government models of leadership around the globe. For example, the UAE has recently appointed a Minister of AI, which brings a high profile to the subject, however, may also create a silo effect as other departments may not consider this part of their responsibility. The UK has created a Data and AI office which is central and shared across government. The Canadian Government must also look at itself as a model data user, and take strides to modernize its internal data management.
Charter of Digital Rights
Regarding international trade, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has clear regulations on who is responsible for what. However, no clear charter exists that asserts responsibility and clarity around digital rights and security. There is a potential for industries to come together to build a common understanding and establish rules and practices on digital matters of importance. A broader national charter could also be considered that establishes core principles around digital and data including data ownership, cybersecurity, digital skills and training.

Attendee List

  1. Google Canada
  2. MindBridge
  3. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC)
  4. Communitech Corporation
  5. Borealis AI
  6. Digital Technology Supercluster
  7. Invest Ottawa
  8. Salesforce
  9. Wesley Clover International
  10. Pythian
  11. Business Council of Canada
  12. Mitacs
  13. Siemens Canada
  14. Cisco Canada
  15. D2L Corporation
  16. Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)
  17. Council of Canadian Innovators
  18. Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC)
  19. Microsoft Canada