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The Data Trust – The Superhero We All Need

 

Coming soon to Scotiabank Theatre……

 

*Read using a Movie Trailer Voice*

In a world where hackers and evil corporations make billions using your personal information.

A world where liberty is at the mercy of data breaches.

There’s one thing that can’t be breached: A Fiduciary Duty

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as a Trust Professional that refuses to play by the rules; except of course if those rules are clearly stated in a governing document.

As much as you can try to avoid it, companies and governments regularly capture, store and analyze large amounts of data about us. In the private sector, some companies have even built entire business models around consumer data.

How can we balance the advantages of big data with respect for individual privacy?

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane…..It’s a Data Trust

A data trust involves a trusted third party managing access to databanks for research and development purposes. The clear legal framework of a trust allows for the sharing of information and can clearly define appropriate uses of data. The trust structure facilitates protecting privacy, and trustees can ensure that organizations use data appropriately.

Speaking of birds, shout out to the pigeon that crashed the luncheon at the STEP Canada Conference. I don’t know how you got down so many levels of the convention center, but you made a lot of hungry enemies.

Assemble…..Canada’s Digital Charter

In May 2019, the Federal Government launched Canada’s new Digital Charter which is founded on Ten Principles. As part of the government’s objective to enable responsible innovation, facilitating data trusts for enhanced data sharing has been put forward as a potential option

The Digital Charter will require modernizations to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). PIPEDA requires organizations to obtain individuals’ consent to lawfully collect, use and disclose personal information in the course of commercial activity. Section 7 (2)(c) provides organizations with an exception to this rule if the information is used for statistical or scholarly study or research.

The Federal Government is proposing to revise this existing exception to encourage the creation of data trusts. To take this a step further, there would also need to be a legislative link between the enforcement of PIPEDA and the oversight of data trusts.

Here are some examples of how this looks in practice:

The International Justice League

In January, a research program funded by the UK Government launched three pilots to examine whether a data trust could increase access to data. The pilots focused on trackling illegal wildlife trade, reducing food waste and improving public services in Greenwich.

With the wildlife pilot, the focus will be on sharing data to help with machine learning and Artificial Intelligence. For example, image data of endangered species will be used to train recognition algorithms for border officials. This would help to identify illegal animals and animal products.

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Trustee

A more local example can be seen with Sidewalk Labs in Toronto. Sidewalk Toronto is a joint effort by Waterfront Toronto and Google’s Sidewalk Labs to create a new kind of mixed-use, complete community on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront.

Sidewalk doesn’t want to manage the data collected as part of the initiative and has proposed that data be controlled by an independent civic data trust. Companies that want to use the data held by the trust will need to file a publicly viewable impact assessment.

It remains to be seen if formal trustees will be appointed, or what governance framework the trusts would have.

You hear that Mark Zuckerberg? You can avoid having to be awkwardly questioned by the US Congress again.

If the collection of your personal information makes your spidey senses tingle, a Data Trust might just be the hero you need right now.

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About Peter Meitanis

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