Privacy watchdog calls for AI regulation to ensure privacy rights are protected

The commissioner is recommending a "rights-based approach"

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has released key recommendations for regulating artificial intelligence.

Commissioner Daniel Therrien has stated that although AI has the potential to help address many of today’s pressing issues, Canadians’ fundamental right to privacy must be upheld.

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

The commissioner’s office is calling for legislation that will help reap the benefits of the technology while also protecting privacy.

“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,” the commissioner’s office notes.

The recommendations include amendments to 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.

These uses would have to be authorized for use within a rights-based framework that would focus on privacy as a human right and necessity.

Another amendment states that the commissioner’s office should have the power to issue financial penalties to companies that don’t comply with the law.

Further, Therrien has outlined that organizations must be required to design AI systems in a way that protects privacy and human rights.

The recommendations outlined by the commissioner are based on a public consultation that was launched earlier this year. The commissioner’s office also received feedback from industry, academia, civil society and the legal community.

These recommendations come as Commissioner Therrien recently cited an urgent need for law reform amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and outlined that Canada has fallen behind other countries in terms of privacy laws.