Keeping it real in 2023

With the rise of ChatGPT, personalized real-time chatbots, and other rapid-fire advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), it is increasingly hard to tell the difference between what’s real and not real.

As AI becomes more common, it appears many of us are searching for meaning when it comes to understanding authenticity. In fact, Merriam-Webster named “authentic” as its word of the year for 2023, defining it as “not false or imitation,” but “real, actual,” and “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”

One way to inspire authenticity is by being very transparent with the use of these new technologies. On December 7, 2023, I joined my federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) counterparts in launching a set of principles to guide the responsible and trustworthy development and use of generative AI technologies in Canada. The best practices we call for include: being open and transparent about the way information is used and the privacy risks involved; taking reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of input and output data; and making AI tools explainable to users. It’s also important to ensure that generative content, which could have a significant impact on an individual, is identified as being created by a generative AI tool.

Authenticity can also be nurtured through the principle of open and transparent government, something my office has long advocated for. By making government-held information more readily accessible to the public, institutions can combat some of the misinformation and disinformation out there with reliable and trustworthy sources of information that help restore public trust.

In May, the IPC unveiled its first-ever Transparency Showcase. It’s an online 3D gallery highlighting some great examples of how Ontario institutions have been proactive in releasing data to the public in a meaningful and accessible way. We hope this showcase inspires others to adopt similar open data initiatives and look forward to launching our next Transparency Challenge in 2024.

In October, we took further strides with our FPT colleagues, by calling for the modernization of access to information legislation, policies and practices, with critical investments in resources and technological innovations. Access to Canada’s documentary heritage is an important step to understanding where we’ve been and where we’re going. We need to be able to tell the real stories of Canada’s past to support public trust, healing, and reconciliation.

Being authentic and transparent is important for an organization that strives to be modern and effective. Following a period of public consultation, we are modernizing our code of procedure for appeals under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). Our goal is to publish the final revised code early in the new year to enhance transparency of IPC’s adjudication process and related policies. These processes and policies have evolved over time to become more streamlined, efficient, and digitally friendly to provide more timely resolution to appeals and complaints.

We’ve also updated our Manual for the Review and Approval of Prescribed Persons and Prescribed Entities under the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA). After almost two years of consultation with affected organizations, we have modernized the manual to better reflect their reality on the ground and consider the evolving security risks they’re facing in a world of sharply rising cyberthreats. The new manual takes a risk-based approach that involves a more focused and in-depth review of key high risk areas. It emphasizes the ultimate outcome we are trying to achieve — enhanced privacy protection for Ontarians, rather than a theoretical checklist for compliance. It’s coming soon and will be available on our website in the new year.

You may have also heard that as of January 1, 2024, our office will have the authority to issue administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) for violations of PHIPA. Our goal is to maintain a fair and proportionate approach, while promoting confidence in the digital health-care system and supporting an environment for continuous learning and improvement. Watch for details coming soon in our new guidance. It sets out the way we intend to use this new enforcement tool, the kinds of circumstances in which these AMPs may apply, and a transparent list of factors we will be taking into consideration when determining their amounts.

Another way we try to keep it real at the IPC is by providing very concrete and practical resources to individuals and institutions who look to us for information. To that end, we’ve codified some of our decisions into short and actionable Interpretation Bulletins to explain in simple terms how we’ve interpreted complex legal provisions in FIPPA/MFIPPA, so parties know what to expect right up front at the access request stage. We’ve published our first batch of bulletins and look forward to releasing the next batch very soon.

Indeed, keeping it real means keeping our feet to the ground. Following last year’s release of a joint statement and privacy guidance related to the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement, we received important feedback. Police and other groups in Ontario told us that while they appreciated the FPT guidance, they needed more practical and concrete regulatory guidance in the form of specific use cases in Ontario. Well, we listened and will soon be releasing specific guidance on the use of facial recognition technology in connection with mugshot databases. It’s on its way, so look for it in the new year!

Also, part of being authentic means that our office is open to having real and meaningful conversations on topics that matter to Ontarians. In a recent Info Matters episode, I spoke with Betty-Lou Kristy, Chair of the Minister’s Patient and Family Advisory Council. Her mission is to improve patient care in Ontario by putting patients and families at the center of policymaking and actively involving them as co-designers of the digital health system. That involvement, she says, must be real, “not a tokenistic thing.” We’re hoping to continue that conversation with Betty-Lou and the patient and family advisory council in the new year. We would like to hear their views on how to address privacy and transparency concerns that they experience within the health-care system.

I heard a similar message during my conversation with Jane Bailey and Valerie Steeves, co-leads of the eQuality Project. When it comes to developing digital education and policy, it is critical to really listen to the voices of young people. The views of children and youth are essential to creating a networked environment where they can participate equally, free from surveillance and identity-based harassment. But that means more than just getting their input on things we intend to do to solve problems we think they are facing. It means having them articulate for themselves what their concerns are and how it really feels to navigate the digital environment they live in, and then taking responsibility as parents, educators, and policymakers to address them.

We’re taking that advice to heart by engaging with our Youth Advisory Council and broad-based Strategic Advisory Council members in genuine and meaningful ways that encourage creativity and an open dialogue when it comes to addressing both the access and privacy challenges that Ontarians are faced with today.

As we look ahead to the holiday season, it’s an important time to reflect on and take stock of the activities of the past year, set objectives for the year to come, and resolve to make things even better. I am filled with excitement and optimism, and look forward to continuing this work, alongside the incredibly talented and dedicated team at the IPC.

Author Brené Brown once said, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

Despite the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I hope you’ll take quality time to connect with the people you care about in a real and authentic way and stay grounded in the things that matter most.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthy, and peaceful new year.

— Patricia

This post is also available in: French

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