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Sidewalk Labs privacy advisor resigns

Ann Cavoukian stated in her resignation letter that the proposed protection of personal data in the Waterfront Toronto smart city project “is not acceptable”.

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Waterfront Toronto: one of the biggest infrastructure projects in North America
Waterfront Toronto: one of the biggest infrastructure projects in North America

Privacy expert, Ann Cavoukian, has resigned from her position as advisor to Sidewalk Labs because of concerns over personal data security. Cavoukian, former information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, stated in her resignation letter that the proposed protection of personal data “is not acceptable”.

 

Sidewalk Labs is the smart city division of Google-owner Alphabet which is working with Waterfront Toronto to create a revitalised waterfront. It is one of the largest infrastructure projects in North America.

 

Advisory panel resignation

 

Earlier this month, tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar resigned from the Digital Strategy Advisory Panel of Waterfront Toronto because of concerns around personal data, criticising its “apathy” and saying its “utter lack of leadership regarding shaky public trust and social license” was “astounding”.

 

Sidewalk Labs put forward new proposals on digital governance for the project last week, explaining that ‘urban data’ should be under the control of an independent civic data trust.

 

It later said that while it will remove any personal identifiers from all data, it couldn’t guarantee that other organisations involved in the project would do the same.

 

In her resignation letter, Cavoukian wrote: "Just think of the consequences: If personally identifiable data are not de-identified at source, we will be creating another central database of personal information (controlled by whom?), that may be used without data subjects’ consent, that will be exposed to the risks of hacking and unauthorised access."

 

The matter is starting to lead the discussion and debate on smart city data and how it is used. In an article on the Canadian online news website, The Star, Fenwick McKelvey, associate professor in communication studies at Concordia University, said the resignation "is clear evidence that we don’t have proper regulatory infrastructure to deal with these new smart city initiatives.”

 

"Just think of the consequences: If personally identifiable data are not de-identified at source"

 

David T S Fraser a privacy lawyer retained by Sidewalk Labs to understand Canadian privacy expectations and privacy culture and who has worked on the project for almost a year, tweeted that: "To be fully independent, the Civic Data Trust would determine how data is collected and used, and under what terms.

 

“It would review proposals and use its independent judgement to find if the project is in the community interest. It likely would require de-identification at the source, but Sidewalk shouldn’t dictate its decision-making, now or later.”

 

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