Ryerson pushes public debate on cybersecurity, privacy issues

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Ryerson University has launched a discussion platform for the public and private sector aimed at offering policy solutions to governments for pressing cybersecurity and privacy issues to Canadians.

Called the Cybersecure Policy Exchange, its a combined effort of Ryerson’s Leadership Lab, the university’s Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst and the Royal Bank.

The initial focus will be on three areas: Social media platforms, which are under fire for allowing users to post disinformation and hate speech; the Internet of Things, including popular but potentially intrusive devices like home surveillance cameras; and biometrics, including the very hot topic of facial recognition software.

“Over the next 12 months we will put forward public policy research, approaches and recommendations to those three policy areas,” said Charles Finlay, executive director of the Cybersecure Catalyst. The Catalyst is a Brampton, Ont.,-based centre for innovation, education and collaboration.

But many federal and provincial privacy laws were drafted in the 1990s and early 2000s are now often insufficient in the face of new technologies to guard the public interest, the exchange said in a launch document. Canadian institutions must evolve to meet new cybersecurity and digital privacy risks to maintain the public trust, it adds.

Thanks to the pandemic, much of the outreach to the public of the Policy Exchange will have to be done online through webinars and workshops. But the exchange is also promising to release research, working with governments, academics, industry and civic institutions.

The first event will take place July 14th with the release of the full results of a public opinion survey of 2,000 Canadians conducted in May of their concerns about cybersecurity and privacy.

Some results were released Thursday when the program was announced the same day:

  • 57 per cent of respondents said they have been the victim of a cybercrime;
  • 15 per cent of respondents said they trust Facebook to keep their data secure;
  • 41 per cent of respondents said they are uncomfortable with being captured by camera-enabled doorbells like Amazon’s Ring, with 15 per cent supporting a ban on these products.

“Our research shows the cybersecurity and privacy issues Canadians are facing are very serious,” Finlay said, which is why organizers want to talk about them and find solutions.

The three initial topic areas were carefully chosen, he added. While Canadians are heavy users of social media their trust levels on the platforms are low. Some of that is due to controversies like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where personal data of millions of Facebook users around the world was unknowingly scooped up and used by political consultants for the placement of online ads, he noted.

It’s been long reported that we are seeing millions of internet-connected devices from smartwatches and home surveillance cameras to sensors in streets and energy pipelines added each year. But, Finlay said, the privacy and cybersecurity risks are not well understood — both by the public and the private sector.

As for biometrics and their use by governments and businesses, Finlay noted they have broad implications not only for civil rights but also for fairness and equity in the workplace.

For all three areas, the exchange will ask if government policy changes are needed to ensure the privacy and security needs of Canadian citizens and businesses are met.


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