Saskatchewan and Ontario officials say data in the RTD (sometimes called the “Hub database” in Saskatchewan) is “de-identified” by removing details such as people’s names and birthdates, though experts Motherboard spoke to said that scrubbing data so it may never be used to identify an individual is difficult if not impossible.A Motherboard investigation—which involved combing through MCSCS, police, and city documents—found that in 2017, children aged 12 to 17 were the most prevalent age group added to the database in several Ontario regions, and that some interventions were performed without consent. In some cases, children as young as six years old have been subject to intervention.
“We can knock on someone’s door and say, ‘We’re so worried about you, can we come in and chat?’”
Because some of the information-sharing process before intervention is done verbally, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) developed additional guidelines for Hubs intended to ensure people’s privacy rights are respected—getting individuals’ consent to share information whenever possible, for example, and acting in a way that “more positively than negatively” affects them.But in Ontario, police, health care professionals, and social workers participating in the Hub model are under no obligation to follow IPC’s guidelines, though they are still beholden to provincial privacy laws.“Communities are not required to apply the best practices included in the [IPC] guidance document,” stated an MCSCS briefing from an internal meeting held in June 2018.However, Brian Beamish, Ontario’s IPC commissioner, told Motherboard in an email that “Situation Tables that deviate from the IPC’s guidance risk breaching [individuals’] privacy.”When asked about the briefing by Motherboard, MCSCS did not comment, but a spokesperson said in an email that the ministry “strongly encourages” Situation Table participants to follow the IPC guidelines.
“There are concerns about this kind of surveillance that go beyond privacy, [affecting] people’s basic rights to liberty and security of the person"
It’s unclear what algorithm, if any, Canadian authorities use to analyse the RTD, but automated tools come with risks as well. Experts have pointed out that the algorithm underpinning PredPol, one of the most widely used predictive policing technologies, is fundamentally flawed in a way that can contribute to over-policing, particularly for marginalized communities.The RTD has already inspired at least one predictive policing initiative, the Saskatoon Police Predictive Analytics Lab (SPPAL), considered to be Canada’s most advanced predictive policing program. One report states that the SPPAL “expands on the Hub model’s risk tracking system.”Academic research has explored how the Hub model represents an “extension of police control” in society. A research paper published last month by Carrie B. Sanders, a criminologist at Wilfrid Laurier University, concluded that the Hub model is deeply influenced by “traditional policing practices” and that without sufficient oversight, Hubs “can evade democratic accountability.”Police services that send data to the RTD must sign an agreement with MCSCS that bars them from speaking with the media about the database without the Ministry’s written consent, according to a copy of a 2016 agreement obtained by Motherboard.McPhail said that without increased transparency, Hubs will continue to present risks to the privacy rights of the vulnerable people whose data they compile in the RTD.“We can’t have processes that are based on using exceptions to privacy law, with no transparency or accountability as to how [Hubs] are interpreting those exceptions,” she said. “Privacy is a human right. It can’t be eroded just to make someone’s job easier.”Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.