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The Privacy Advisor | OPC announces investigation of OpenAI at IAPP CPS 2023 Related reading: An update of C-27 since its reintroduction in Parliament


During the opening keynote address at the IAPP Canada Privacy Symposium 2023 on 25 May, Privacy Commissioner of Canada Philippe Dufresne announced his office is launching a joint investigation into OpenAI in concert with several provincial data protection authorities.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner originally opened its own investigation into OpenAI generative artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT in April. The OPC will now be joined in the investigation by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia and Quebec's data protection authority, the Commission d'accès à l'information du Quebec, per Dufresne's announcement.

"We will be investigating whether OpenAI's practices comply with Canadian privacy law in relation to consent, openness and transparency, access, accuracy, and accountability.” Dufresne said, including "whether the organization is collecting, using and disclosing personal information for an appropriate purpose."

Dufresne said the investigation is in its "early stages," and OpenAI is cooperating with the process.

This was the first time he delivered the annual OPC report to CPS attendees since his appointment last year. The announcement of the joint investigation into OpenAI came as part Dufresne's outline of his priorities for the OPC during this term.

Dufresne said investigating OpenAI is just one example of the need for Canadian government, industry and civil society to remain vigilant regarding emerging technologies, to ensure they do not have corrosive effects on democratic principles and institutions. He quoted portions of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman's 17 May testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

ChatGPT and other AI chatbots "offer awe-aspiring possibilities that the risks of these privacy impactful tools — which some have likened to a Pandora's Box — must be addressed appropriately," Dufresne said.  

Dufresne's other priorities aim to protect children's privacy and prepare the OPC for potential federal and/or provincial privacy law reform, such as the proposed federal Bill C-27 and Quebec’s Bill 64, now in force.

"As privacy commissioner, (children's privacy) is an issue that I take very seriously, and want children to be able to benefit from technology and to be active online, but we want them to do so safely and free from fear that they may be targeted, manipulated or harmed," Dufresne said.

"It will be important that our legislative regime be harmonized to ensure both public and private sector privacy laws are grounded in the same principles. With respect to Bill C-27, in many ways it is an improvement over (the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) and former Bill C-11 by establishing stronger privacy protections for individuals and creating incentives for organizations to comply."

Dufresne also listed "pillars" of how he views the concept of privacy: privacy is a fundamental right that "supports the public interest in Canada's innovation and competitiveness" and "celebrates trust" Canadian citizens have in their public and private institutions.

"Treating privacy as a fundamental right means treating it as a priority, and it means, in clear cases of conflict with private and public interest, privacy should prevail," Dunfrense said. "Privacy supporting the public interest in Canada's innovation means it is not a zero-sum game between privacy rights and public and private interests. We can have both, and Canadians deserve to have both."

On his desire to see privacy celebrate trust throughout Canadian society, Dunfrense said justly balancing innovation with citizens' right to privacy builds public confidence in institutions throughout the country.

"Privacy as an accelerator of trust means we all gain by protecting privacy," Dunfrense said. "By being seen to be doing so, it generates trust and engagement with our public institutions, which is good for the citizens and for the public interest. It sustains trust and loyalty from clients, which is good for innovation and for Canada's economic success."

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