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At the Academy’s Spring Talk on May 1, Ann Cavoukian, PhD, one of the world's leading, and most highly decorated, privacy experts, spoke passionately and persuasively about the importance of privacy in our lives.

Cavoukian was introduced by the Academy’s Clare Mian as “one of the most impactful, smartest women in tech.” Cavoukian’s record is impressive: after an unprecedented three terms as Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, she is currently the Distinguished Expert-in-Residence, leading the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University. She is also a senior fellow at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers Leadership Centre.

Cavoukian set about dispelling some myths; for example, privacy is not the same as secrecy. It’s not about having something to hide, she explained, it’s about having control over your own information. This applies to businesses and individuals alike.

She spoke at some length about Privacy by Design, the framework she created that embeds privacy into the design specifications of information technologies, networked infrastructure and business practices. “As regulators,” she warned, “we only see the tip of the iceberg. The majority of privacy breaches remain unchallenged, unregulated … unknown.”  The remedy is to ensure that privacy is always set up as the default. Basic tech tools to protect privacy are encryption, de-identification and anonymization of data. “We need to strip data of personal identifiers,” she stressed.

“Privacy is good for business,” said Cavoukian, quoting as a case in point her work with gas and electric companies that were considering installing smart meters to transfer data electronically. When asked about the costs, she explained that these would be a fraction of the costs of a data breach, the loss of consumer trust, and the class-action suits that would ensue. Case closed!

On the individual level, what can we do to protect our privacy? Act responsibly: for example, don’t give away personal information when shopping.

In conclusion: “Spread the word: privacy forms the foundation of our freedom. We must have privacy. We must have freedom.”

Submitted by Lorna Poplak