Toronto

Toronto needs data collection policy to protect people's privacy, councillor says

City councillor Joe Cressy is pushing for an overall policy on collecting and using people's data amid concerns about the rising use of technology and the "smart city" proposal by Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto.

Joe Cressy has put forward a motion to be debated at next week's city council meeting

Coun. Joe Cressy proposes the city develop a policy on collecting and using people's data. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

Toronto needs an overall policy on collecting and using people's data amid concerns about the rising use of technology and the proposed "smart city" development by Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto, one of the city's most outspoken councillors says.  

"This is a new world we're living in and it's time for the city of Toronto to help lead the discourse," Coun. Joe Cressy said in an interview at his city hall office.

Cressy, who represents Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York, has put forward a motion that is set to be debated at the next city council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26. It calls for city staff to develop a policy on data collection and recommends public consultations be part of the process. 

The motion comes as questions continue about a planned development by Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of Google, which proposes a "smart" neighbourhood on the waterfront that would also collect data about people's movements.

The proposed development has prompted critics to push for assurances the information collected will not be used to violate people's privacy, but Cressy said that's only part of what led to him to put forward the motion.

If you use your Presto card to take the subway, then hop on a downtown streetcar, for example, the city knows where you've been and the route you took, he said. 

The downtown councillor said as new technologies continue to emerge, there will be be many more ways to collect personal information.  

The proposed pavement design features hexagonal tiles that will allow for quicker repairs. They may also be able to light up and heat up to melt ice. (Sidewalk Labs)

The Sidewalk Labs proposal, including heated sidewalks, affordable housing and infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, is planned for Quayside, an undeveloped area east of downtown along Toronto's waterfront.

Sidewalk Labs responds

The company sent CBC a statement.

"We welcome the motion being introduced by Councillor Cressy," it reads in part.

"We hope that our project will set a new standard for responsible data use, as articulated in our data proposals we released last year."

Cressy's motion was released on Thursday, the same day two executives from Waterfront Toronto were questioned by a federal government standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics regarding the Sidewalk Labs proposal. 

Before hearing from the executives, an NDP MP who's vice-chair of that committee spoke to CBC's Metro Morning, saying the federal government is keeping a close eye on the Sidewalk Labs proposal.

"What is the financial base of Google's power? It's data," Charlie Angus told host Matt Galloway.

Angus referred to "the rise of this culture of surveillance capitalism" and  said questions need to be asked about the development in what he called "the most valuable real estate in North America."

Here's the full interview with Angus: 

NDP MP Charlie Angus says Sidewalk Labs should take questions before the House of Commons standing committee on information, privacy and ethics. Angus also describes why he thinks the project should be paused. 8:58
 

Cressy said he wants the city to have a policy to ensure data collection, use and storage "is used for the public good, not private gain," pointing to other cities, including Barcelona, that have already implemented data governance policies.

He's concerned that personal information could be shared or sold, possibly resulting in "somebody not getting a bank loan or a life insurance policy or not being accepted into a college or university," he said.

"As residents, you have the right to have your digital identity protected." 

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