Madam Speaker, citizens are increasingly concerned with the information that is being collected about them, how that information is stored and how that information is used. When they like or dislike something on Facebook, where is that information stored and how is it utilized? When the bank asks them three important questions, to which they provide a security answer, where is that information stored and who has access to it?
As the digital world has advanced and expanded exponentially, regulations and oversight, unfortunately, have been rather lax. Now Canada is in a position where it needs to play catch-up. Like an untamed beast, bad actors have been given access to our information and now we are having to pull back in an effort to protect Canadians.
The digital charter implementation act, which seeks to protect the country's aging privacy regime or bring it up to international standards, is much needed and I commend the government for that. However, there are a number of concerns I wish to address as we bring this to a vote. Of course, my hope is that appropriate amendments are made once this gets to the committee stage.
Technology provides us with incredible opportunities for connectivity, influence and prosperity. However, in the midst of all of these positive components, there is also a dark side. By not seriously enforcing transparency and security measures, we run the risk of perpetuating our nation's technological vulnerabilities and we fail to protect our citizens' privacy.
I want to commend the government for acting on this file and crafting legislation that attempts to right some of these wrongs. It is unfortunate, however, that it took five years to bring this time-sensitive bill forward, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. The Privacy Commissioner has been calling for many of these changes, but the Privacy Commissioner would also urge the House to go further. It is no secret that Canada is lagging behind other countries and we need to get going.
If we want Canada to be a leader in technology and artificial intelligence, it is important that we invest the time and resources to get this right. While some measures in the bill meet international standards, others are lacking. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that we do not just pass legislation that checks off a few boxes and makes a few provisions, and then pat ourselves on the back as if we accomplished something great. What we are dealing with is very complex, sometimes confusing and merits keen attention, as well as bringing all the experts to the table.
Jim Balsillie, the founder of Centre for International Governance Innovation and an expert in the realm of digital privacy, has rightfully flagged this for us. He has flagged the call for algorithmic transparency in the bill as something that is inadequate and ineffective in addressing the real problem. We do not just need transparency. He is saying that we need to go a step further. We also need full access to the information and an understanding of what it means, as well as teeth in the event that something needs to be done about it.
In order to better understand the problem, let me take one moment to talk about algorithms. In simple terms, an algorithm is a set of codified instructions followed by our computing devices, whether that is our smart phone or television, etc. Basically, it instructs the device or the site that we are on to do something that the creator would desire it to do in order to anticipate our digital decisions and to direct us to the places it would like to direct us to go.
We know that algorithms are being used especially on social media platforms to affect our shopping habits, as well as our human behaviour. They are used to evoke strong, primarily negative emotions from the platform user, which produce harmful results both mentally and emotionally. Algorithms determine what is shown on our Facebook timelines or Instagram feeds and the advertisements that come up on the pages we look at. Companies and organizations use patented algorithms to push their agendas, whether that is to boost sales or to elicit support for a specific cause. They study us, they follow us and they direct us.
As we navigate online, our behaviour is constantly monitored. The data is stored, commodified and then it is even monetized, often without our consent. That information is then used to manipulate and control future behaviours through other algorithms. This pattern is particularly harmful to young children, as well as young adults, who are susceptible to these tactics.
Algorithms are now using artificial intelligence, which means that they are in some ways scarier than ever. They can learn how to trigger negative emotions and keep the user online for hours upon hours by targeting them with enticing images, stories or videos, things that would be of interest to them, because, remember, these individuals have been preyed upon and studied for many years.
The legislation before the House would give Canadians a right to transparency, but it fails to provide a mechanism for action. It is like being able to see that someone is harming a child but not actually being able to take any action. Again, transparency is there, but what is the good of transparency if the wrong cannot be righted?
Robert Mazzolin is the chief cybersecurity strategist for the RHEA Group. He explained that legislators must insist that AI systems are made comprehensible to humans. In other words, make them understandable. He went on to say, “Enhanced transparency is a precondition for the acceptance of AI systems, particularly in mission-critical applications impacting life and death”. Algorithmic transparency is not enough. Canadians must be able to access not only the algorithms that are being used but what the code actually means. They must also be able to act when the algorithms are being used in a harmful manner.
Furthermore, when it comes to requesting information about the algorithms that are being used, the bill actually fails to legislate or give direction as to how the contact information for companies can be easily accessed. This might seem simple, but when was the last time members were able to just phone Google or contact it to inquire about something? It is not very easy. When was the last time members were able to get a hold of customer service at Facebook? Again, it is not very easy.
There is an opportunity within this legislation, a bare minimum within regulation, to tell companies where the information needs to be located and how it needs to be accessible to the Canadian public. For example, make it so that it has to be accessible on the home page, that it has to be size 12 font, that it has to be a certain type of font or that it has to be a certain colour of font. Make it so that the phone number, email and mailing address have to be listed. Make sure that we are caring for the consumer if this legislation is truly about Canadians.
If we want to keep children safe on their way to school, we do not just reduce speed limits in the area. We put in a crosswalk, lights, signs and crossing guards. We issue speeding tickets and we might even have police control. The objective here is to protect the kids, not just put up a speed limit sign. It is imperative that we take a very comprehensive approach to protecting Canadians' privacy, their digital safety and their security. It is not just about transparency. It is about so much more.
If the bill were to pass today, it would already be out of date. We are seriously behind in protecting Canadians' data, and foreign countries are certainly aware of that. By only addressing certain aspects of digital privacy and ignoring others, the government is leaving Canadians vulnerable and putting our national security at risk. AI technology is upending the international balance of power and shaping the geopolitical competition between nation-states. It would be naive for us to assume that foreign governments are not looking at Canada's vulnerabilities as an opportunity to upset information systems from within. This is extremely alarming and deserves for our attention.
For example, there is Huawei. Countries like China are seeking to obtain information superiority by acquiring massive amounts of data and using it to their advantage. The Chinese Communist Party has been pushing for greater civil-military fusion, as it calls it, which is evident in numerous sectors but especially in telecoms and data harvesting. The Chinese president has stated that AI, big data, cloud storage, cyberspace and quantum communications were among “the liveliest and most promising areas for civil-military fusion”.
It is perplexing then why this government has not yet taken steps to limit the impact that Huawei can have on our nation. In fact, we are the only country out of the Five Eyes alliance that has not limited Huawei or banned it altogether. This is perplexing and troubling.
The legislation is akin to building a security wall around a city, but only one section of the wall is built high enough to keep enemies out. Meanwhile, the rest of the wall is only built maybe a few feet high. If enemies are looking at the part of the wall that is actually built to the correct height, they are intimated by it and stay out, but the moment they take a peek around the corner and realize that the rest of the wall is only built a few feet high, they are in. That is what the legislation is like. It means well, but it is not nearly as comprehensive as it needs to be.
In closing, I am asking for an opportunity to work across party lines to address the concerns of Canadians to adequately serve their safety needs.