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LCO is leading the way for a new digital rights agenda in Ontario

Computer algorithms that adjudicate criminal sentencing. Online “click consent” user agreements that fail to protect privacy and data. Bots that manipulate the prices of online goods based on consumer profiles. These and countless other issues are at the heart of the LCO’s digital rights project.

“There’s a lot of work being done internationally and nationally on these issues, but what seems to be missing is how to approach or regulate new technology in a provincial context,” says Ryan Fritsch, the LCO counsel who is overseeing the project. But he admits the technologies are changing so fast it’s a constant challenge to keep pace.

“The law is already lagging behind what’s actually happening as a result of technology. We don’t have the luxury of time to explore this project in the traditional LCO way.”

Instead, Fritsch plans to break down the issues into three distinct areas — the accountability of algorithms and artificial intelligence; consumer protection; and employment law for those working in the digital economy. While the projects alone and together may lead to concrete law reform recommendations, they may also serve as a launch pad for further discussion.

“This is often uncharted territory for the law,” explains Fritsch. “A lot of people are simply looking for someone to help lead that conversation and explore what’s possible.”

The LCO’s innovative approach is the result of preliminary consultations with more than 50 key experts — technologists, academics, lawyers, advocacy groups and corporate leaders in the technology sector.

In May, the LCO partnered with the Mozilla Foundation, the non-profit behind web browser Firefox, to host a roundtable on digital rights and digital society . A second panel presentation took place at RightsCon, the world’s largest digital rights conference held in Toronto earlier this year. Both events generated widespread debate and concrete suggestions for the LCO’s project.

“The Law Commission of Ontario is in an excellent position to facilitate positive law reform developments relating to Canada’s digital society,” says David Fewer, executive director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic who attended the LCO/Mozilla Roundtable. “The LCO’s multidisciplinary approach has great potential to bridge gaps in Canada’s existing digital rights ecosphere to help strengthen and support Canadians’ legal rights and human rights.”

Fritsch is convening an expert advisory group to help hone the questions and identify experts and partners to accelerate each project. He expects to launch the first project early in 2019.