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Our Meeting with the Information and Privacy Commissioner

We had the honour of meeting with Patricia Kosseim, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC), and Eric Ward, the Assistant Commissioner. Commissioner Kosseim and Assistant Commissioner Ward led an insightful discussion about the role of the IPC in overseeing Ontario’s freedom of information and privacy laws. These laws establish how the province’s public institutions, health care providers, and child and family service providers may collect, use, and disclose personal information, while ensuring privacy and security. They also grant the public the right to access government information and their own personal information.

Commissioner Kosseim discussed the balance between protecting privacy and accessing information in the age of the pandemic. At a time when access to information is required to meet public health imperatives, she stressed the importance of maintaining time and scope limitations on the use of personal information in this context.

We learned about the IPC’s four strategic priorities: (1) privacy and transparency in a modern government, (2) children and youth in a digital world, (3) next-generation law enforcement, and (4) trust in digital health. As organizations’ use of digital tools accelerates, these priorities seek to address the key challenges to individuals’ privacy and access rights. Commissioner Kosseim argued for an appropriate ethical framework to guide the development of a modern government driven by data and strategic technologies.

We were extremely interested in the ways that quickly developing technologies and the pandemic have changed our expectations of privacy, and how the proactive and outreach work of the IPC brings public awareness to privacy issues. For example, the Info Matters podcast and Commissioner’s Blog explore some of the significant issues in data and privacy, such as the use of facial recognition software, and privacy and transparency in sexual assault investigations. Quite a few of us later returned to the IPC’s website to explore these resources and learn more about these complex problems.

A big thank you to Commissioner Kosseim and Assistant Commissioner Ward for this eye-opening conversation!

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