Canada to Create Top Official to Police Artificial Intelligence Under New Data Law

The Canadian government could name a top official to police the development of artificial intelligence systems in the country under proposed legislation introduced to parliament.

The Digital Charter Implementation Act of 2022 aims to protect the personal information of children and proposes regulatory measures to stop companies developing and deploying harmful artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Speaking at a technical briefing with the media, a federal government official spoke of concerns that the government said the new bill would address concerns over previously announced plans to reform Canadian privacy laws. These were introduced in 2020 but failed to pass through parliament, coming under heavy criticism from the then-federal privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien.

Of these three components, the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act seeks to protect Canadians by mitigating the risks of in-built harms and biases in high-impact AI systems. It means businesses could face criminal prohibitions and penalties if they attempt to obtain people’s data unlawfully for the purposes of developing AI, or use AI without proper safety measures in place, or for the purposes of fraud.

The new Bill would give Canada’s privacy commissioner, currently Philippe Dufresne, the power to stop a company collecting data or using personal information. The commissioner would also be able to hit non-compliant organisations with fines of up to 5% of their global revenue, or CAN$25 million (US$39.1 million) for the most serious offences. As well as enforce preventive measures, the new law will also require organisations to report incidents of imminent or actual harm in AI development process.

To monitor corporate compliance with these areas, an AI and data commissioner would be appointed to help ministers “in the administration and enforcement” of the legislation.

This is the latest in a number of policy developments around AI in Canada. Prime minister Justin Trudeau outlined his priorities for the innovation sector, which included the development of a national strategy on AI, ahead of the government’s 2022 budget, while the country has committed CAN$443.8m (US$693m) over 10 years to the country’s Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. The strategy’s aim is to bring together science and technology experts from around the world on questions relating to how to use AI for the good of humanity.

Canada is also a member of the Global Partnership on AI, an international AI partnership that builds on the strategy by seeking to guide policy towards responsible development and adoption of the technology.

“A reformed privacy law will establish special status for the information of minors so that they receive heightened protection under the new law,” they said.

The Digital Charter Implementation Act comprises three proposed acts: the Consumer Privacy Protection Act, the Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act, and the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA).