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Canada’s Digital Charter: Adapting with the Changing Times

Canada's Digital Charter: Adapting with the Changing Times

This past Tuesday May 21st, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced elements of Canada’s new laws governing the internet and digital privacy in a Digital Charter. With technologies advancing daily and regulations and policies remaining unchanged for decades at a time, it’s a positive step to more closely align industry advancements with public sector governance.

For SingularityU Canada, a community that embraces innovation, and encourages people to consider the exponential trends, topics, and challenges that are most important to our country, the Charter is a step forward in shaping our collective future.

The Digital Charter is founded on ten principles that reflect key areas of concern voiced by Canadians during open sessions, such as the National Digital and Data Consultations (the Consultations). Among the principles listed are inspiring, but unsurprising priorities such as: open and modern government, control and consent, and data and digital for good.

In a society where exponential change is rampant, and one that is increasingly data-reliant, revisiting the federal privacy laws is welcome and necessary. Key themes that emerged from the Consultations highlight the extent to which technologies are reshaping the way people live and connect and the new concerns people must navigate online. Considerations reflected in the principles, like “safety and security”, take on a new meaning in the digital age and they will continue to evolve. For context, it’s estimated that cybercrime will cost $6 trillion annually by 2021 and there will be 80 billion connected devices by 2025.

At SingularityU Canada, we believe that exponential technologies are the key to unlocking global solutions. Furthermore, leveraging the convergence of exponential technologies will set us on the path to solve our global grand challenges. Learning, governance and security are among the global grand challenges – and are recognized and addressed by the Charter.  

The past few years have seen several initiatives undertaken by the government to boost the digital economy and to ensure all Canadians are poised for success in the digital age – the Computers for Schools program gave 7,500 refurbished computers to Syrian refugees in Canada, while the new National Cyber Security Strategy helps protect citizens and businesses from cyber threats. The Government is committed to strengthening Canada’s innovation ecosystem, through investments in initiatives such as the Innovative Superclusters and Innovative Solutions Canada.

Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), has not been substantially updated since the early 2000s

Most importantly, at the heart of the Charter is the importance of building trust in a digital world.

The Charter includes proposed changes to modernize Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), focusing on issues such as meaningful enforcement of regulations and enhanced oversight, consent, and data mobility. PIPEDA has not been substantially updated since the early 2000s.

“We need to get serious about rebuilding trust because people are currently losing it,” said Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains. “In the 21st century, either we build that trust and compete in the data-driven digital economy, or we don’t compete at all.”

Also recently announced by Minister Bains: the launch of the Advisory Council on Artificial Intelligence. Comprised of 15 members, the council will advise the federal government on “how best to build on Canada’s AI strengths, identify opportunities to create economic growth that benefits all Canadians and ensure that AI advancements reflect Canadian values.” Various Canadian scientific experts and entrepreneurs are on the panel, including Dr. Geoffrey Hinton, and University of Alberta Professor Richard Sutton.

In the wake of the March terrorist attacks in New Zealand, and the violent content that was live streamed and distributed on platforms such as Facebook and Youtube, Canada and 18 other countries as well as eight major tech companies have signed the Christchurch Call, a pledge to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

The pledge demonstrates how a broader conversation around tech governance is needed. As pointed out in a Globe and Mail article, “We don’t need to militarize the problem or play Whac-A-Mole with extremists: We need to govern platforms.” in Ottawa this week, representatives from nine countries, including Canada, participated in the second International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News. The group discussed how they can protect citizen rights in the age of big data, examining the role of internet giants, such as Facebook, in safeguarding privacy and democratic rights.

“What we’re seeing now is a digital sphere that’s turned into the Wild West,” said Justin Trudeau, speaking at a technology conference in Paris last week. “And it’s because we – as governments and as industry leaders – haven’t made it a real priority.”

Such actions demonstrate that Canada is taking concrete steps to adapt to the changes of tomorrow, and positions Canada as a leader in the global economy, and our ever-changing world.