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Canada's response to digitization

Canada's new Digital Charter addresses innovation and privacy in today's data-driven economy

Digital technology is transforming society and the economy, changing how people work, shop, and interact with each other as well as how companies do business. Data is a vital resource that helps people and companies increase their productivity and opens the door to new opportunities. Economic, political, and social decisions are also increasingly made or influenced by data, including activity on the Internet and across social media.

The power and persuasion of today’s data-driven digital economy has led the Canadian government to establish a Digital Charter with 10 principles aimed at fostering innovation and economic growth, while also recognizing concerns around data privacy and protection.

“We must find a way to protect [personal] data, while still being open to the economic opportunities of a data-driven world. Our competitiveness depends on it,” says Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.1

More nations adopting digital standards

Key insights

  • Canada’s new Digital Charter aims to empower data-driven innovation while also ensuring privacy protection
  • The Digital Charter encourages equal access to the digital economy, providing employees with the necessary tools to connect and improve their skills to keep pace with change
  • Canada’s competitiveness depends on how it uses and manages data

Canada is among a growing number of nations looking to both embrace and protect its citizens in the rapidly advancing digital age. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development and partner countries, including Canada, recently developed a set of intergovernmental policy guidelines on artificial intelligence (AI), vowing to “uphold international standards that aim to ensure AI systems are designed to be robust, safe, fair, and trustworthy.”2 Other principles and guidelines are being made around the world to try to promote the responsible use of data.

The Canadian government says its goal with the Digital Charter is to ensure the ethical use of data to promote openness and transparency to improve lives. Governments are also working to prevent, as much as possible, the unethical or illegal use of data that can lead to fraud or even extremist activities. For instance, Canada recently signed the Christchurch Call to Action, a global pledge to work towards eliminating terrorist and extremist content online.3

Cracking down on these activities not only helps to save lives, but promotes economic stability and freedom. The Digital Charter aims to use data for good, which organizations across the country agree is important in today’s competitive marketplace.

“With the Digital Charter, Canada is making progress in both embracing and reinforcing the value of data to spur innovation and economic growth while protecting citizens, and organizations from data misuse,” says Jamie Stevenson, Managing Director, Global Head of Product Management, Data & Analytics at RBC Investor & Treasury Services. “These are fundamental principles that should form the basis of any data strategy.”

Data use: preparing and protecting Canadians

The Digital Charter was unveiled in the spring of 2019 based on findings from the National Digital and Data Consultations, which sought to better understand “how Canada can drive digital innovation, prepare Canadians for the future of work, and ensure they have trust and confidence in how their data is used.”4

Canadians are concerned about how their personal data could be used, and want measures in place to protect their privacy and security

The government describes data as a “powerful tool,” alongside technologies such as robotics, AI, and machine learning that can help unlock and drive ground breaking research and innovation. However, the consultations also revealed that many Canadians are concerned about how their personal data could be used, and want measures in place to protect their privacy and security.

“The way forward on data collection, management, and use must be built on a strong foundation of trust and transparency between citizens, companies, and government,” the government states.5

The consultations included input from digital leaders, cross-country roundtables, and everyday Canadians who shared their vision for a competitive, inclusive, digital, and data-driven Canada in three areas: skills and talent; unleashing innovation; and privacy and trust.6

“Canadians understand the potential of data. They also told us that we must find ways to use data responsibly,” says Bains. “The good news is that, under Canada’s new digital and data principles, these are complementary, not competing priorities. Canada’s digital and data principles lay down the foundation that will allow us to build an innovative, people-centred, and inclusive digital and data economy built on trust.”7

1.Data to drive skills and talent

It has been called Canada’s “quiet crisis.” According to an RBC report, half of all jobs will be disrupted by technology and automation in the next decade, some slowly, some drastically.8

The Canadian government cited this report in its outline of the Digital Charter, describing how new technologies such as data analytics, AI, and machine learning will impact the future of work. “It will be important that Canadians are adaptable and nimble,” the government states, adding that it will require a combination of technical skills as well as “soft skills” such as critical thinking, leadership, and resilience.9

By promoting “universal access” and other principles, the Digital Charter aims to ensure the digital economy helps to prepare youth for the workplace of the future and supports all employees in learning new skills for career changes. The recommendation is for companies to embrace digital technology adoption, to ensure data is accurate and that benefits of a digital and data-driven society are available to all.

2.Data to drive innovation

The Canadian government says its goal with the Digital Charter is to ensure the ethical use of data to promote openness and transparency to improve lives

Data drives innovation, fuels productivity, and helps Canada become more globally competitive. It is not only the acceleration of technology that matters, but how quickly companies integrate it into their operations. For example, the government cites McKinsey Global Institute forecasts that suggest AI could potentially deliver additional economic output of around USD 13 trillion by 2030, boosting global GDP by about 1.2 percent a year.10

The Digital Charter, through principles such as “a level playing field” aims to help Canada build a culture of innovation. “Canada must be a leader, embrace change, and make big bets in areas of strength. Those who quickly adapt are best placed to benefit from the new digital marketplace,” the government states.11

3. Data privacy and trust

Protecting data privacy and promoting trust are a key part of the Digital Charter amid growing concerns among Canadians about how their personal information is being used. While the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and other frameworks provide some protection, “there remains important questions about how to ensure these frameworks are transparent, and have the appropriate approach to maintain Canadian’s privacy and trust in an increasingly data-driven world,” the government states.12

The Digital Charter aims to address core values, including a right to privacy, through principles such as “safety and security” and “data and digital for good.” It also calls on companies to ensure they have the right protections in place to prevent online security breaches, data misuse and manipulation, and malware.

The Digital Charter aims to ensure the digital economy helps to prepare youth for the workplace of the future

“Trust and privacy are key to ensuring a strong, competitive economy, and building a more inclusive, prosperous Canada,” says Bains. “As our world continues to evolve and becomes increasingly more digitized, we must remain proactive, fostering a flexible environment where Canadians can seize the benefits available through the digital economy while maintaining a protective framework that supports our fundamental Canadian values.”13

The digital way forward

The Digital Charter is Canada’s next step in addressing the digital and data transformation in society and business. The government is working to balance the economic drivers of a data-driven economy with due consideration for concerns associated with privacy and trust.

While there is no simple solution, the government is providing guidance on how business and society should embrace and manage the opportunities and challenges that come with the rapidly advancing digital age.

“We are committed to principles to guide how data, trust, and privacy fit into our plan to grow our economy through innovation and build sustainable growth by leveraging digital and data transformation, as a nation, we can’t afford not to get this right,” Bains says.14

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