Many new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), represent a real threat to the privacy and human rights of workers and citizens. Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) is presently consulting on a list of proposals to regulate AI. CUPE wrote a submission to the OPC, that raises important concerns, especially for workers under federal jurisdiction.

This is an important initiative given the expansion of AI in many workplaces where our members are employed and communities where they live. CUPE members, including those in the communications and port sectors, are already experiencing the impact of AI in their workplaces.

Governments must address the privacy concerns arising from the commodification of data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. This issue has become even more critical in light of the dangerous violation of data privacy rights by unethical corporations. CUPE believes that a rights-based approach should be implemented: Personal data should be protected as an extension of the right to privacy.

CUPE encourages the OPC to include safeguards on the use of AI and the underlying data collection, storage, and use in workplaces. The OPC should require a detailed analysis of potential privacy implications, especially when internet technology (IT) work is outsourced to third parties. Workers, and their union representatives, must have the right to provide prior and informed consent to the collection, use, or disclosure of all their data.

The OPC should also address situations where AI is used by employers to assess or monitor workers or potential workers. For example, the use of AI in human resource management is already raising concerns as to discriminatory practices.

“Workers, and the public, need to give informed consent prior to automated decision-making systems being put in place,” CUPE’s submission states. “Workers, their union representatives and the public need assurance on how and why data is being collected, stored and used. Mass datasets exist and are already being used in ways that violate human rights and privacy rights.”