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Commissioner issues proposals on regulating artificial intelligence

Recommendations aim to allow for responsible AI innovation and socially beneficial uses while protecting human rights

GATINEAU, QC, November 12, 2020 – The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) today released key recommendations for regulating artificial intelligence. The recommendations are the result of a public consultation launched earlier this year.

“Artificial intelligence has immense promise, but it must be implemented in ways that respect privacy, equality and other human rights,” said Commissioner Daniel Therrien. “A rights-based approach will support innovation and the responsible development of artificial intelligence.”

AI offers the potential to help address some of today’s most pressing issues. For example, it can analyze patterns in medical images to help diagnose illness, improve energy efficiency by forecasting power grid demand, deliver individualized learning for students, and manage traffic flows to reduce accidents. It also stands to increase efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness – factors that are critical to economic recovery and long-term prosperity.

However, uses of AI that are based on individuals’ personal information can have serious consequences for privacy. AI models have the capability to analyze, infer and predict aspects of behaviour and interests.

AI systems can use such insights to make automated decisions about people, including whether they get a job offer, qualify for a loan, pay a higher insurance premium, or are suspected of unlawful behaviour. Such decisions have a real impact on lives, and raise concerns about how they are reached, as well as issues of fairness, accuracy, bias, and discrimination.

The OPC is calling for legislation that will help to reap the benefits of AI while upholding individuals’ fundamental right to privacy. These include amending the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) to:

  • allow personal information to be used for new purposes towards responsible AI innovation and for societal benefits
  • authorize these uses within a rights based framework that would entrench privacy as a human right and a necessary element for the exercise of other fundamental rights
  • create a right to meaningful explanation for automated decisions and a right to contest those decisions to ensure they are made fairly and accurately
  • strengthen accountability by requiring a demonstration of privacy compliance upon request by the regulator
  • empower the OPC to issue binding orders and proportional financial penalties to incentivize compliance with the law
  • require organizations to design AI systems from their conception in a way that protects privacy and human rights

The OPC also published today a separate report by Ignacio Cofone, Assistant Professor at McGill University's Faculty of Law, which informs the recommendations for law reform. The OPC commissioned this report, which also takes into account stakeholder feedback in the OPC’s consultation.

During the consultation on AI, we received 86 submissions and held two in-person consultations. The OPC consulted and received feedback from industry, academia, civil society, and the legal community, among others.

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