Canadians don’t know how their data is collected and used, report says

Digital technology has spread so rapidly at such a rapid pace that Canadians have no idea what information is collected about it or how it is used, a new report says.

The report by David Lyon, former director of the Surveillance Studies Center at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, highlights the need for greater transparency in data collection and analysis, as well as new digital rights and means to ensure justice for Canadians.

Based on research from 2016-21, “Beyond Big Data Surveillance: Freedom and Fairness” indicates that regulations have not evolved fast enough to keep up with ever-changing technologies.

Additionally, the report argues that some, such as women, black people, and Indigenous groups, are more exposed to surveillance than others.

The research team examined the use of ‘big data’ in security and policing, marketing and political persuasion, and governance through innovations such as ‘smart cities’.

The Monitoring Center is hosting a conference this week at the University of Ottawa to coincide with the release of the results.

“To imagine that surveillance problems reside primarily in cameras on the street or in the building you walk into is living in the past. You carry the main surveillance technology in your pocket – your phone,” said Lyon, professor emeritus at Queen’s.

The report comes as the federal government studies potential changes to privacy laws governing agencies in the public and private spheres amid the growing influence of social media platforms and tools such as recognition software. facial.

A persistent problem identified by the research was information imbalance – the notion that citizens and consumers have no idea what data is collected about them, let alone the consequences of being visible. Meanwhile, the report notes, businesses and governments are amassing massive amounts of data about Canadians, often using it in unspecified ways.

The report also cites today’s “tangled surveillance” dilemma which is more complex than in the past.

Artificial intelligence has led to calls for more transparency about how algorithms work, as well as broader ethical guidelines, the report says. “But few, even among computer scientists, understood what such transparency might entail.”

Meanwhile, various agencies, including police departments, are pushing for the use of more data analytics, while the COVID-19 pandemic has opened new avenues for data surveillance.

“Changes in technology and practice seem much faster than any regulation to contain them,” the report says.

“Few people can keep up with the speed and magnitude of changes in data analysis and use, which means less protection, especially for the most vulnerable.”

Among the report’s recommendations:

— Go beyond traditional privacy protections to ensure data rights and justice, as personal information is increasingly used on a large scale;

— increase collaboration between researchers in social sciences and computer science, regulators and civil society; and

— Increase public awareness of how Canadians are impacted by data surveillance every day.

“Our post-pandemic world demands thoughtful and decisive action to assess and confront the emerging world of surveillance, which is everywhere and often discriminatory,” the report said.

“The issues deserve to be at the forefront to educate everyone, from the safe use of smartphones to responsible computing systems. We need innovative ways to assess and regulate digital developments. A freer and more justice is a more humanly habitable world.”

Elizabeth Denham, who served as Information and Privacy Commissioner in British Columbia and Information Commissioner in the United Kingdom, told the conference on Wednesday that greater accountability and transparency are needed. from major online platforms.

That means data laws that “actually require companies to be much more transparent about the algorithms they’re using, about the technologies they’re using,” Denham said.

She suggested such laws will emerge when competition, content and data regulators “come together in a much more integrated way”.

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