Ontario Privacy Commissioner Named Executive Director, Ryerson University Institute for Privacy and Big Data

By: Lee Rickwood

April 28, 2014

At the time, the concepts were barely known, poorly appreciated, almost universally ignored.

Today, our awareness of online privacy and personal data protection issues are much greater, more worrisome, and fuelled by daily revelations about online spying, unwarranted surveillance and the loss of control of our digital identity.

Fifteen years ago, we didn’t think much about the NSA, anti-cyber bullying legislation, Facebook account settings – or the effects such things have on our online privacy.

Privacy By Design Button

Privacy By Design Button

But Dr. Ann Cavoukian did.

Fifteen years ago, she took over the position of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. Over the course of her unprecedented three terms on the job, she’s demonstrated her “passion for privacy” and built her office into “a world-class agency, renowned for our innovation and leadership in access and privacy.”

Now, she’s leaving that agency and will not be returning as Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Ryerson University has appointed Dr. Cavoukian as the Executive Director of its new Institute for Privacy and Big Data; her appointment takes effect July 1st.

The new Institute, housed in Ryerson’s Faculty of Science, is being positioned an important component of the university’s approach to the power of Big Data, the importance of online privacy, and the continued emergence of information and communications technology in all our lives, and in all our personal and professional activities.

“The Institute for Privacy and Big Data will bring together experts from both within the university and beyond, to develop new ways to protect and promote people’s privacy in the digital age,” said Mohamed Lachemi, Ryerson provost and vice president academic, in announcing Dr. Cavoukian’s new role. “I would like to welcome world renowned privacy expert Dr. Cavoukian to Ryerson to lead this new initiative. I know her knowledge and expertise will have immediate impact and be of immeasurable benefit to our students.”

The new Institute will be a central hub for Ryerson students, faculty and staff and activities related to data-driven training, discovery, innovation and commercialization.

Ryerson’s existing Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute (now housed in the Ted Rogers School of Management) and the research conducted there, on topics like workplace privacy, data breaches, identity theft and online privacy will become part of the new Institute under Dr. Cavoukian’s leadership.

Dr. Ann Cavoukian (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Ann Cavoukian (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Her leadership has been evident for more than 20 years, eve before joining the provincial agency. In 1995, Cavoukian authored a rather ground breaking research paper about privacy protection through the pursuit of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs), and the earliest possible inclusion of privacy protection tools in the design and development of new digital products and services.

Her ideas are now embedded, if you’ll pardon the phrase, in the industry lexicon. Dr. Cavoukian’s ideas evolved into the Privacy by Design campaign, now adopted as an international standard for privacy protection and recognized worldwide.

Yet privacy to Cavoukian was never just about getting manufacturers on-board; consumers have a role to play as well, and Cavoukian was committed to the idea of informing and empowering consumers to have confidence and yet still take precautions when online.

“It’s all about trust,” Cavoukian explained to WhatsYourTech.ca, quickly acknowledging that many manufactures fail to give consumer good information about privacy controls and risks: “User manuals suck!”

Dr. Cavoukian also noted that the marketplace was just one key player in the privacy protection landscape: governments are another, she said in response to the tabling of proposed privacy protection or anti cyber bullying legislation in this country.

“It’s fair to say this is ‘surveillance by the design’ of the legislator,” Cavoukian noted in another conversation with WhatsYourTech. “They are crafting the legislation in a way that will compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecom companies to enable ‘back door ‘access automatically for law enforcement.”

She was more than willing to stand up to conventional wisdom, too, and willing to contradict the privacy platitudes of some of her peers. Responding to concerns of unwarranted surveillance online and the collection of so-called ‘metadata’ by certain government agencies, Cavoukian was among those decrying the practice:

“Metadata can actually be more revealing than its content,” Cavoukian wrote in response to those observers less concerned than she about the practice.

There has been no word from the government as to a replacement for Dr Cavoukian, and the Office will surely be weakened if no one can be found with her dedication, insights and perseverance.

Thankfully, Dr Cavoukian will still be active on the privacy scene even before taking on her newest challenge, and in fact she will be speaking about privacy issues and her time as the Privacy Commissioner at various upcoming events.

She will be leading a Privacy by Design Breakfast Lecture on May 6, 2014, and will present The Unintended Consequences of Privacy Paternalism at an event on May 9th.




submitted by Lee Rickwood






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