Promoting Transparency While Protecting Privacy in Open Government in Canada
38 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2015 Last revised: 25 Nov 2015
Date Written: September 10, 2015
The rise of big data analytics, combined with a movement at all levels of government in Canada towards open data and the proactive disclosure of government information, create a context in which privacy issues are increasingly likely to conflict with the goals of transparency and accountability. No new legislative frameworks guide the move towards open government in Canada, notwithstanding the fact that government data is fuel for the engines of big data. This paper considers the challenges inherent in the release of government data and information within this context. Although the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services v Information and Privacy Commissioner (Ontario) (Ministry of Community Safety) did not specifically address either open data or proactive disclosure, this case offers important insights into the gaps in both legislation and case law in this area.
This paper assesses how the goals of transparency and the protection of privacy are balanced in Canada in light of the Court’s decision in Ministry of Community Safety. In particular, it considers how “personal information” is to be understood in the public sector context; how courts and adjudicators understand transparency in the face of competing claims to privacy; and how best to strike the balance between privacy and transparency. It challenges the simple equation of the release of information with transparency and argues that the coincidence of open government with big data requires new approaches.
Keywords: privacy, transparency, open data, proactive disclosure, big data, personal information
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