Canadian Journal of Communication Policy Portal Vol 44 (2019) PP-23–26 ©2019 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation http://doi.org/10.22230/cjc.2019v44n2a3601
Leslie Regan Shade, University of Toronto
This edition of the Canadian Journal of Communication (CJC) Policy Portal brings together six short critical commentaries that address key social and economic aspects integral to the development of a Canadian digital and data strategy. The establishment of a national digital and data strategy is the current focus of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), which announced its national consultation in June 2018 (ISED, 2018a). In ISED’s (2018b) discussion paper Positioning Canada to Lead in a Digital-and Data-Driven Economy, the federal governmental organization describes the economic transformation of Canadian industries and the shifting role of the consumer, while also raising concerns about a changing workforce, instilling consumer privacy and trust, and mitigating data discrimination.
Steeped in the rhetoric of innovation and disruption, the ISED (2018b) discussion paper positions Canada as involved in a “global innovation race” (p. 2), with attendant calls to increase an educated workforce of data specialists. To lead the charge, the government’s 2017 Innovation and Skills Plan proposed efforts to build out advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, health and bio industries, clean resources, and digital industries in order to “make Canada a world-leading centre for innovation, to create well-paying jobs and to help strengthen and grow the middle class” (ISED, 2017, n.p.).
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s (2018b) digital and data strategy discussion paper presents three broad areas of concern for the consultation: 1) the future of work—such as the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing on the workforce—and diversifying science, technology, and math (STEM) education and labour composition with women and Indigenous talent; 2) unleashing innovation—again, the impact of AI and other advanced technologies, such as 5G and the internet of things—and strengthening intellectual property regimes; and 3) trust and privacy, such as updating privacy legislation to bolster consent mechanisms, developing data governance regimes, and considering the ethical dimensions of digital technologies.
The national consultation took place from mid-June until mid-October 2018 and consisted of three trajectories: 1) in-person meetings led by Digital Innovation Leaders held across Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Waterloo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, Québec City, Fredericton, Charlottetown, Halifax, St. John’s, Whitehorse), as well as one roundtable in Silicon Valley; 2) an online consultation seeking input on the three topical areas of work, innovation, and trust and privacy; and 3) a package of prepared materials (a discussion paper, a “state of play deck” detailing comparative global indicators, and an infographic illustrating the digital and data environment in Canada) to enable Canadians to host their own roundtable.
Blayne Haggart and Natasha Tusikov (2018) remarked, soon after the government’s announcement that while the government’s encouragement for a diversity of voices to participate in the consultations was laudable, the dominant framing of data issues from an economic and innovation perspective was limiting. A more fulsome digital and data rights perspective ought to include social and collective standpoints. They (Haggart & Tusikov, 2018) call attention to advocacy in Canada, notably the Digital Rights Now (n.d.) campaign organized by Tech Reset Canada (co-founders Bianca Wylie, Jen Evans, Saadia Muzaffar, and April Dunford), the Digital Justice Lab (Nasma Ahmed, director), and the Centre for Digital Rights (Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion [RIM, now BlackBerry] and the founder of the Centre for International Governance Innovation). The Digital Rights Now (n.d.) campaign is calling on the federal government to initiate a national conversation to address a myriad of data governance issues, including data collection, ownership, rights and use, privacy rights, data consent, internet access, fair competition, and future prosperity.
It was within this context that the call for papers (CFP) for this Policy Portal was released in mid-September 2018. The CFP sought contributions addressing a range of issues related to the development of a digital and data strategy, including data governance, algorithmic accountability, data justice, data privacy, and data literacy.
In “Political Bots: Disrupting Canada’s Democracy,” Elizabeth Dubois and Fenwick McKelvey outline accountability issues with political bots, which are automated online agents that mimic human behaviour. Political bots increase astroturfing (fake grassroots campaigning) and computational propaganda that aims to heighten political discord and sway public opinion. Four challenges for bot accountability include identification (the lack of labelling is a complicating factor), evidence (bots are ephemeral and difficult to track), attribution (assessing bot provenance), and enforcement (what type of regulation can rein in bots?). Dubois and McKelvey present several prospects for policy, notably the creation of a bot registry or enforcement through the Election Act.
Jonathan Obar’s article, “Searching for Data Privacy Self-Management: Individual Data Control and Canada’s Digital Strategy,” notes how complicated and obtuse privacy policies and terms of service can be for many users, requiring a degree of informational self-management they might not possess. He argues that the Individual Access Principle of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which governs data management in the commercial sector, should be strengthened. Obar also suggests that information fiduciaries or info mediation may facilitate an individual’s access to information collected by corporations.
The federal government is investing millions of dollars in AI initiatives across multiple sectors of the economy. Fenwick McKelvey and Margaret MacDonald review AI governance initiatives in their article, “Artificial Intelligence Policy Innovations at the Canadian Federal Government,” noting its curious absence in the digital and data strategy consultation document. They hone in on two federal government initiatives: the Treasury Board of Canada on AI in the public service (2019) and the Global Affairs Canada focus on human rights, which is fostered through its Digital Inclusion Lab.
As Tamara Shepherd and Monica Jean Henderson document in their article, “Digital Literacy in Digital Strategy,” earlier federal internet policy framed digital literacy in mostly economic terms, with the onus on individuals to be responsible for their accrual of digital skills. Given current trends in datafication, Shepherd and Henderson argue that a renewed digital and data strategy demands a more flexible approach to digital literacy, one that considers the needs of various communities through intersectional perspectives and an attention to digital policy literacy.
A key economic aspect of Canada’s digital economy is, as David Nieborg, Chris Young and Daniel Joseph point out in their article, platformization, which is epitomized by the video game industry. In “Lost in the App Store,” they highlight how app stores owned by the U.S. firms Google and Apple dominate the global app economy, with video games an intrinsic product. Through access to a proprietary financial database, the authors reviewed the Canadian app store, finding an absence of Canadian-made and Canadian-owned game apps. Nieborg, Young, and Joseph recommend that a digital and data strategy consider supporting local cultural intermediaries, creating financial supports that support circulation as well as production, and building stronger intellectual property (IP) mechanisms to strengthen Canadian IP.
The role of digitization in agriculture is, as Kelly Bronson and Irena Knezevic detail in their article, a blind spot in digital and data strategy discussions. In “The Digital Divide and How it Matters for Canadian Food System Equity,” the authors build on their current research on big data and farming to highlight how agricultural data that serves as a lucrative resource for corporations in the agribusiness industry risks exacerbating digital inequities. To counter the agricultural data divide, Bronson and Knezevic recommend that the government incentivize innovative digitization for a variety of food system stakeholders, and, given the increasing consolidation of agribusiness, consider regulatory measures.
As of the writing of this introduction in early Spring, the ISED has yet to release its digital and data strategy and the results of the consultations, which are regularly compiled into a “What We Heard” public report. The 2019 federal budget, announced in March, did not mention the digital and data strategy (Hemmadi, 2019), although it is mentioned within the ISED (2019) report that was released one month earlier, Building a Nation of Innovators, which outlines its innovation and skills plan, “a long-term plan for Canada’s future which puts people at its centre” (p. ix).
According to ISED’s Media Relations, the 30 roundtables led by the six Digital Innovation leaders brought together more than 550 participants across the country, representing large companies, SMEs, business associations, business sectors (technology, legal, health, financial and natural resources) academia, and NGOs. Specific roundtables focused on opportunities and challenges for immigrants and their participation in the digital and data economy; support and empowerment mechanisms for women in the digital and data economy; and a public event hosted by Simon Fraser University on “Being Human in the Digital Age.” ISED’s efforts to ensure diversity of perspectives in the consultations included roundtables focusing on women, Indigenous peoples, youth, newcomers, and seniors; and roundtable invitee lists included participants from underrepresented groups and a diverse range of organizations. The online consultation website and feedback from other digital platforms generated more than 1,950 written responses. Privacy was an important issue expressed by participants, and based on their consultations, ISED will soon forward a principles based approach (personal email with ISED Media Relations, April 29, 2019).
In an election year, and one where calls for technology regulation are increasingly suggested from government and civil society, nationally and globally, public interest perspectives on digital and data strategy are needed. The contributors to this CJC Policy Portal have provided an excellent array of policy contributions to add to this burgeoning and important debate.
I offer sincere thanks to the many reviewers for this Policy Portal, who offered generous and exceptional feedback to the authors. Many thanks as well to Assistant Editor Simon Vodrey, who started the review process and to Bethany Berard, in her capacity as the new Assistant Editor, who kept everything on track.
Centre for Digital Rights, www.centrefordigitalrights.org
Digital Justice Lab, www.digitaljusticelab.ca
Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca/
Tech Reset Canada, www.techresetcanada.org
Digital Rights Now. (n.d.). Digital rights now. URL: https://digitalrightsnow.ca [April 10, 2019].
Haggart, Blayne & Tusikov, Natasha. (2018, July 2). Why the public needs more say on data consultations. The Conversation. URL: https://theconversation.com/why-the-public-needs-more-say-on-data-consultations-99065 [April 6, 2019].
Hemmadi, Murad. (2019, March 19). Eleven key takeaways from the 2019 federal budget for Canada’s innovation economy. The Logic. URL: https://thelogic.co/news/special-report/eleven-key-takeaways-from-the-2019-federal-budget-for-canadas-innovation-economy/ [May 8, 2019].
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). (2017). Chapter 1: Skills, Innovation and Middle Class Jobs. Budget 2017: Building a Strong Middle Class, Innovation and Skills Plan. https://www.budget.gc.ca/2017/docs/plan/chap-01-en.html [April 23, 2019].
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). (2018a, June). National Digital and Data Consultations. URL: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/084.nsf/eng/home [April 6, 2019].
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). (2018b). Positioning Canada to Lead in a Digital-and Data-driven Economy. URL: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/084.nsf/eng/00007.html [April 6, 2019].
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). (2019). Building a Nation of Innovators, 2019. URL: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/062.nsf/vwapj/ISEDC_19-044_INNOVATION-SKILLS_E_web.pdf/$file/ISEDC_19-044_INNOVATION-SKILLS_E_web.pdf [April 6, 2019].
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (2019, March 4). Ensuring responsible use of artificial intelligence to improve government services for Canadians. URL: https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/news/2019/03/ensuring-responsible-use-of-artificial-intelligence-to-improve-government-services-for-canadians.html [April 23, 2019].