Finding balance in 2021

December 30, 2020 - Ron Kruzeniski, Information and Privacy Commissioner

So many people have said 2020 has been an “interesting”, “challenging” or “difficult” year. I know we all hope 2021 will be better. We know the covid-19 challenges that face us in 2021 but are there some challenges in the access and privacy world that we will face? I believe there are.

Prior to covid-19, we were quickly changing and adapting to the necessary shift into a digital world and the pandemic has definitely sped up that change. Some of us have been able to work from home by using VPN functionality; the challenge of which has been to keep conversations and data private and protected. Face to face meetings have been replaced with virtual meetings which are easy to set up and save a lot of travel. However, we need to be careful to ensure that our meeting and conversations are only heard and seen by the ones authorized.

Due to the publicity surrounding facial recognition, we need to recognize that anyone who has a smart phone could have a facial recognition app and may be taking a picture of you or me. The challenge is to ensure that facial recognition is ok when we are trying to find a lost or kidnapped child but we need to ask whether we want authorities to use this tool when it might not be accurate or sensitive to race.

There has also been an ongoing debate regarding the use of body cameras by police. Again, we need to recognize that every smart phone has a camera and we all have become on the spot photographers. Bystanders witness events and quickly pull out their smart phones and post the video on social media or provide it to the mainstream media. Police forces have run pilot projects and some police forces are seriously considering the use of bodycams. The challenge is to prevent and define inappropriate use, and to develop policies that deal with collection of images, their use and disclosure. More particularly, we need to ensure that images released do not reveal the images of those who are not the subject of the event.

We have learned that hackers are most interested in hacking into our personal health information and we need to ensure that our most sensitive health information is only accessed by those who are authorized to do so. Telehealth was a concept before the pandemic but now it is a reality which many people like due to its convenience. Again, we need to ensure that our conversations with our medical practitioners are private and confidential and the records of those conversations are protected and secure.

Our data is stored in multiple databases in the province and in Canada. If you take data from two or three databases, you can learn more about you or me. This is called data linking or matching. If used to improve programs, this is a positive use of the information but when used in other ways may have individual negative consequences. The province has passed the Data Matching Agreements Act but it has not been proclaimed. The act strikes a balance in terms of use of data and transparency. The challenge is to proclaim the act and ensure that data matching occurs in our province that is a benefit, not a detriment, to those we serve.

There is also the challenge of artificial intelligence. I am of the opinion that every tool is neither good nor bad. The challenge is designing our legislation and rules so that the good purposes are permitted and the bad purposes restricted. In our province, in Canada and in our world, we need to recognize that the data used is often the data provided by individuals. We need to have rules in place that allows each of us to consent or not consent to use of our data and allows us to withdraw consent or request transfer or destruction of our data.

The federal government Quebec and Alberta are considering amending their access and privacy legislation. The challenge for Saskatchewan is to bring its over 28 year old legislation up to date. We need to acknowledge that we have to consider access and privacy in the context of data, automated decision-making, and databases.

With federal proposed changes in Bill C-11, we in Saskatchewan need to consider, as Ontario is doing, whether we need a Saskatchewan law, rather than a federal law, which applies to provincial businesses and organizations.

There are many challenges ahead in 2021. Let all of us pursue those challenges in a thoughtful, responsible and respectful way.




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