Some 2,000 human rights, Internet, legal and academic experts, business leaders, tech executives and activists from around the world are expected at today’s opening in Toronto of the seventh RightsCon conference.

Over the next three days attendees will have a choice of 450 sessions on a wide range of rights topics related to the online world.: How to leverage blockchain as a force for good, the digital divide in Indigenous Communities in North America, content regulation, free speech and censorship, false news, online surveillance and Internet governance.

“It’s our most ambitious program yet,” press spokesperson Melody Patry said in an interview.

One of the highlights will be a preparation of the Toronto Declaration on Discrimination in Machine Learning,  a step toward developing detailed guidelines for the promotion of equality and protection of the right to non-discrimination in machine learning. As the program says, there are substantial risks of discriminatory profiling in decision making driven by machine learning if developers aren’t careful.

The Declaration — a first of its kind, said Patry — will address necessary protections for companies and governments exploring and implementing the future of machine learning.

“Recently there were a couple of news stories about algorithms and machine learning products being used by the police to target who might be likely to commit a crime. What we’ve noticed is that the data being used to seed the database and build the algorithm were flawed. Which means what you would expect to be neutral was not neutral at all, and was replicating some serious discrimination that exists in society and wrongly targets specific groups.”

The goal of the declaration is to encourage data scientists to think early when creating machine learning algorithms about implications of assumptions in their work.

Among those scheduled to appear on panels are Daniel Therrien, Canada’s privacy commissioner; Brenda McPhail, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s privacy, technology and surveillance project; Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy; David Green, civil liberties director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Anna Bacciarelli of Amnesty International; Pierre Blais, chairman of Canada’s Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which oversees activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS); Adam Blinick, Uber Canada’s director of public policy and communications; cryptography expert Bruce Schneier; Kathy Brown, president of the Internet Society and several officials from the U.S. State Department.

The conference comes at a time when government investigators in three countries — the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. — are looking into the alleged abuse of a Facebook survey by Cambridge Analytica to sweep up personal data of users to help political parties. Yesterday the New York Times revealed the Justice Department and the FBI are looking into the controversy.

Just before the conference opened Access Now, which organizes the event, released a report which alleges Turkey is using the FinFisher surveillance software against government critics and protesters. The first report on this software was issued several years ago by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab 

“There is an obvious failure here — by multiple actors — to adequately account for users’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression and respect due process; an unacceptable status quo which abandons human rights defenders and journalists around the globe,” Lucie Krahulcova, EU policy analyst at Access Now, said in a statement.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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