Waterfront Toronto not resisting data demand: former privacy commissioner
An artist's rendering shows what Sidewalk Toronto will look like when it is complete. (Sidewalk Toronto)
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, November 8, 2018 7:49AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 8, 2018 9:25AM EST
TORONTO -- Former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian said Waterfront Toronto has recently "expressed no resistance" to her demand for companies working with the organization and Alphabet Inc.-backed Sidewalk Labs on their Toronto smart city to commit to de-identifying data as it is obtained.
Cavoukian has long been pushing for the measure and last month, went so far as to resign from her consultancy role with the Quayside project when she felt her advice on the policy wasn't being heeded.
Cavoukian told The Canadian Press she believed a Monday meeting she had with a "senior" Waterfront Toronto representative "to be a commitment" to the organization implementing the policy.
"I believe they will follow through...They seem very sincere and genuine. There was no animosity," she said.
"I asked for something like a press release or an announcement, so the public can be relieved that their privacy will not be in jeopardy when this smart city starts unfolding."
Waterfront Toronto spokesman Andrew Tumilty said that Cavoukian had met with Kristina Verner, the organization's vice-president of innovation, sustainability and prosperity.
"We are currently exploring the methods available to ensure de-identification of data at source, and we look forward to further conversations on this subject with Cavoukian," he wrote in an email.
Tumilty said any of the principles the organizations set up for the project will need to be vetted by an advisory panel and be subject to public consultations.
The proposed Quayside project has raised many privacy and data concerns because it involves a slew of high-tech innovations that are expected to change how people live, work and play within the smart community and beyond.
Critics have complained about issues around the project's leadership, the lack of clarity around Waterfront Toronto and partner Sidewalk Lab's plans and few details being shared with the public. Several members have quit or considered quitting an advisory panel Waterfront Toronto set up to help guide the project.
Several of those members and critics have cited the same concerns as Cavoukian.
"Because there is going to be sensors and other technology collecting information 24/7 you don't have the opportunity to obtain consent with people because it will be happening all the time and everywhere," Cavoukian said, explaining why forcing companies working on the project to de-identify data at source is so important to her.
"From the beginning, I wanted it to be a smart city of privacy and not a smart city of surveillance."
Tumilty said that Waterfront Toronto has always been committed to protecting personal privacy and has "enormous respect" for Cavoukian and her Privacy by Design framework, which she crafted as a set of best practices for data and safety.
He relayed Waterfront Toronto's willingness to work with Cavoukian on the project, but Cavoukian says she is still considers how she exactly will be involved as a "question mark."
"I told Waterfront Toronto that I would be happy to help them with things," she said. "Certainly I am very, very open to working with them in some capacity."