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Regulations around AI, data collection need to be in place now, Green leader says

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says there's a crisis in Canada when it comes to artificial intelligence and the collection of personal information online, and rules need to be put into place now.

'Citizens’ rights to privacy are being trampled,' Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May visited the University of Waterloo on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, to talk about a portion of her party's platform dedicated to protecting people's personal data. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The Canadian government can do more to protect the personal privacy of individuals and it needs to start doing it now, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says.

May visited the University of Waterloo, a school known for its work on artificial intelligence (AI) and is renowned for its computer science and computer engineering programs, to talk about a portion of her party's platform that calls for regulations around AI development and the collection of user data.

"There is a large crisis happening here because this is something that is largely unregulated," May said, noting many people don't realize just how much information is being collected on them. "This is a whole new playing field and in that playing field, citizens' rights to privacy are being trampled."

May says the party supports entrepreneurs and start-up companies that are developing "internet of things" products, but rules are needed. 

"I think it will be a sad state of affairs if our fridges become smarter than we are," she said. "I think we can make sure that we help new companies get started without invading our privacy."

She added as various groups and companies collect data on people, that information is being sold for profit and misuse of that information is a threat to Canadians and democracy.

Political parties collect data

May called on the other political parties to stop collecting voter data and using it for political purposes.

She says she attempted to get amendments passed to the Canada Elections Act twice, but was unsuccessful. 

She noted the Privacy Act as well as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act govern how data on individuals is collected and held, but the two acts only apply to the government and businesses, not political parties.

Brexit, where Cambridge Analytica is accused of using voter data for targeted online advertising, is an example of why rules are needed, May says.

Democracy itself can be at risk...- Elizabeth May

"We urge all political parties to join us in supporting legislation to ensure that political parties have to play by the rules," May said.

"This is fundamental to democracy that we not allow large political parties to collect data about us which can be mined and used in ways that pervert democracy," she added.

"Democracy itself can be at risk when data is collected, manipulated, packaged, pre-programmed to hit receptors in our brain that are ready to hear that we have something to be afraid of instead of something to understand."

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