The debate over big data, privacy and its implications for democracy came to Ottawa last week as the International Grand Committee brought together the world’s biggest technology companies, politicians from around the world, and leading thinkers. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, the Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics joins the podcast this week to reflect on the three days of hearings, the prospect for global reforms, and what comes next for the committee.
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The LawBytes Podcast, Episode 14: Big Data, Privacy and Democracy – A Conversation With Nathaniel Erskine-Smith on the International Grand Committee
Government Service Delivery in the Digital Age: My Appearance Before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Ethics and Privacy
Last week, I appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics as part of its study on government services and privacy. The discussion touched on a wide range of issues, including outdated privacy rules and the policy complexity of smart cities. I concluded by noting:
“we need rules that foster public confidence in government services by ensuring there are adequate safeguards, transparency and reporting mechanisms to give the public the information it needs about the status of their data, and appropriate levels of access so that the benefits of government services can be maximized. That is not new. What is new is that this needs to happen in an environment of changing technologies, global information flows, and an increasingly blurry line between public and private in service delivery.”
The Canadian government has released its response to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics report on net neutrality. The report featured a strong endorsement of net neutrality and raised concerns with Bell’s site blocking proposal. The government response emphasizes its support for net neutrality, highlighting the current legal framework. While the response does not directly address the site blocking proposal (noting it would inappropriate to comment on a case currently before the CRTC), it reiterates that it has the power to vary, rescind, or refer a CRTC decision back for reconsideration, perhaps a signal that a CRTC decision favouring site blocking could face a government response to rescind or review.
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has released its net neutrality report, strongly endorsing net neutrality safeguards and calling on the government to reject the Bell coalition’s website blocking plan should the CRTC approve it. I was the first witness to appear before the committee on the study, where I emphasized the need for stronger net neutrality enforcement, the risks associated with changing U.S. policy, and the concerns associated the Bell website blocking proposal (which at the time had only been leaked). The committee picked up on all those issues, recommending enshrining net neutrality in the Telecommunications Act, calling on the government to seek assurances from the U.S. that its policies will not undermine Canadian traffic, and encouraging the CRTC to more proactively ensure that ISPs are compliant with Canadian law.
The committee report also waded into the site blocking issue, calling on the government to reject it should it be approved by the CRTC.