Mark Goldberg


Canada’s Digital Charter

Today, Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Minister Navdeep Bains is launching a Digital Charter for Canada, including an initial set of measures to “build trust in the digital economy, and boost competitiveness in the data-driven knowledge economy.” The Digital Charter appears to be a followup to the National Digital and Data consultation from June, 2018.

The 10 principles set out in the Digital Charter are aimed at restoring and building “public trust in the data and digital environment”:

  1. Universal Access: All Canadians will have equal opportunity to participate in the digital world, and the necessary tools to do so – including access, connectivity, literacy, and skills.
  2. Safety and Security: Canadians will be able to rely on the integrity, authenticity and security of the services they use and should feel safe online.
  3. Control and Consent: Canadians will have control over what data they are sharing, who is using their personal data and for what purposes, and know that their privacy is protected.
  4. Transparency, Portability and Interoperability: Canadians will have clear and manageable access to their personal data and should be free to share or transfer it without undue burden.
  5. Open and Modern Digital Government: Canadians will be able to access modern digital services from the Government of Canada, which are secure and simple to use.
  6. A Level Playing Field: The Government of Canada will ensure fair competition in the online marketplace to facilitate the growth of Canadian businesses and affirm Canada’s leadership on digital and data innovation, while protecting Canadian consumers from market abuses.
  7. Data and Digital for Good: The Government of Canada will ensure the ethical use of data to create value, promote openness, and improve the lives of people – at home and around the world.
  8. Strong Democracy: The Government of Canada will defend freedom of expression and protect against online threats and disinformation designed to undermine the integrity of elections and democratic institutions.
  9. Free from Hate and Violent Extremism: Canadians can expect that digital platforms will not foster or disseminate hate, violent extremism or criminal content.
  10. Strong Enforcement and Real Accountability: There will be clear, meaningful penalties for violations of the laws and regulations that support these principles.

ISED intends for the Digital Charter to set a standard against which the government will measure the modernization of Canada’s privacy laws, competition rules and government programs. The Charter also contains principles intended to address Government digital services, disinformation, as well as hate speech and violent extremism online. These latter elements may prove to be the most controversial elements, as the government wrestles with limits on Canadian speech freedoms.

Among the planned reforms are a modernization of Canada’s privacy law, PIPEDA – The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, with measures intended to address issues around privacy, security, algorithmic transparency, consent, control of data, and enforcement. The Government is understood to be considering how to modernize its 20-year old policy and regulatory framework to protect privacy while supporting innovation. At the same time, the Minister appears to have recognized the administrative burden for small and medium sized companies (SMEs) compared to large corporations who have more resources to dedicate to compliance. ISED is proposing to simplify personal information protection requirements, so that SMEs are not disadvantaged while ensuring individuals’ personal information is still protected.

An initiative being led by the Department of Justice and the Treasury Board Secretariat is studying potential reforms to the Privacy Act, which governs the handling of personal information by federal institutions.

The Minister may want to look at whether Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) warrants a fresh look, in view of its administrative burden and whether its restrictions are contributing to or detracting from competitiveness in a digital economy.

Nine years ago, the Harper government launched a consultation for a national digital strategy, with Industry Minister Tony Clement, and Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley, joining Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages James Moore for a process that dragged on for 4 years, culminating in the release of what I have called a pamphlet, not a national strategy.

The Digital Charter will raise concerns from a variety of quarters as Canada navigates the issues associated with government intervention on speech freedoms, whether it is the role of government in moderating content it considers to be ‘disinformation’ or applies hard restrictions on hate speech and extremism. These are important matters to be discussed and debated meaningfully. As such, it is encouraging to see the Digital Charter raise the level of dialog on such substantive issues.

Minister Bains will be delivering the closing keynote address at The 2019 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 3-5 in Toronto. Have you registered yet?

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