Canada must regulate AI to protect privacy and human rights: watchdog

Artificial intelligence must be regulated to protect Canadians' privacy and human rights, a federal watchdog says.

In issuing new recommendations for regulating AI Thursday, Canada's privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said he is calling for legislation to regulate the use and development of AI systems.

Such legislation will help to reap the benefits of AI while upholding individuals' fundamental right to privacy, he said in a statement.

Therrien said these changes should entrench privacy as a human right and a necessary element for the exercise of other fundamental rights.

AI models analyze and try to predict aspects of human behaviour and interests that can be used to make automated decisions about people.

Those can include whether to issue job offers or qualify applicants for loans, setting insurance premiums, and even raising suspicions of unlawful behaviour, Therrien said.

Artificial intelligence has immense promise, but it must be implemented in ways that respect privacy, equality and other human rights, Therrien said.

Such decisions have a real impact on lives and raise concerns about how they are reached, as well as issues of fairness, accuracy, bias, and discrimination.

Therrien said legal changes are needed to address these concerns. Those include amending the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act to allow, but restrict, the use of personal information in AI innovation.

He recommended creating a right to a meaningful explanation for automated decisions and a right to contest those decisions.

Also, he called for strengthening accountability by requiring demonstrations of privacy compliance and empowering his office to issue binding orders and proportional financial penalties for violations.

Last month, the federal, Alberta and B.C. privacy commissioners said that five million images of shoppers' faces were collected without their consent at a dozen of Canada's most popular malls.

Real estate company Cadillac Fairview used cameras and facial-recognition technology to discern shoppers' ages and genders, according to the watchdogs' investigation.

The commissioners had no legal power to issue fines against the firm or any companies that violate Canadians' personal information.

B.C. information and privacy commissioner Michael McEvoy said the inability to address these violations is an incredible shortcoming of Canadian law that should change.