The Digital Era Economy Needs a Statistics Act 2.0

by Nicolas Sacchetti

Amendments to a Statistics Act 2.0 would take into consideration new data and methods that are currently being explored by Statistics Canada (StatsCan), such as the principle of open public data, while respecting the protection of digital business and personal information.

Jan Kestle from the StatsCan CSAC discusses the need for a Statistics Act 2.0.

The event took place at the P4IE (Policies, Processes and Practices for Performance of Innovation Ecosystems) 2022 International Conference on Measuring Metrics that Matter of the Partnership for the Organisation of Innovation and News Technologies 4POINT0.

Jan Kestle, president and funder of Environics Analytics and a member of the Canadian Statistics Advisory Council(CSAC), have been a leader in data analytics for decades. She is an expert in using statistics and mathematics to solve business and social challenges.

The CSAC advises on the well-being of the national statistical system, the chef statistician currently Anil Arora, and the minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne. The minister mandate on the national statistics office also goes in this direction: « continue to support the President of the Treasury Board in their work in building a whole-of-government approach for the improved collection, analysis, availability and publication of disaggregated data. »

For Jan Kestle it’s very important to come to a more understanding of what the national data strategy is, underlining the importance of the data driven decisions making and what it means to Canada in terms of competitiveness, international role, jobs, and innovation. The challenge is to get working together governments, academia and involve as well the public and private sectors.

ASAC Report Key Recommendations

Jan Kestle quote from the Recommendation 1. Adapting governance and data stewardship to a digital society of the ASAC report released in November 2021: « Working within the national statistical system, Statistics Canada is often constrained in its ability to deliver what Canadians expect and need to create prosperity and well-being in a world marked by a digital future. Even with digital modernization efforts, the statistical system is hampered by fragmentation, unused data and unmet data needs in critical sectors. These are largely a consequence of the inherited historical governance structure between Statistics Canada and federal departments, provinces and territories. New governance models are needed that bring broader perspectives and partnerships. » 

Recommendation 2. Statistical legislation must reflect the needs of a modern digital national statistical system. She informs that in the current Statistics Act, there is no definition of data and how it is being managed and monetize in this digital era. There is also a challenge concerning this day low rates responds to surveys. 

Inquiring business data has been also a challenge for decades. « The old ways of doing business and coming up with data and information in order to run the society that we want is a challenge. We have to update the Statistics Act to reflect these new realities, » advocates Jan Kestle. 

This is where web scraping, gathering data from websites, comes into play. Nonetheless, Jan Kestle brings up ethical and data quality questions about it. Is it a legitimate gathering tool? How well do web crawlers understand privacy statements? Is it accurate? What are the standards?  « We need the Statistics Act to speak to some of these new tools because modernize we do have to, but we have to do it in a way that ensures data quality and integrity. »

However, StatsCan is not completely in the dark concerning business data. The agency can obtain it from other agencies like the income data from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Furthermore, according to the April 2021 Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Open Banking « Canadians are open to the use of their information to tackle pressing problems. »

But there is many questions to be answered as do Canadians understand why do governments need data, and can they trust StatsCan to keep their information confidential? « Part of the responsibility for the research community is to help Canadians to understand why these data are so important, » puts forward Jan Kestle.

In terms of privacy protection, Jan Kestle also points out the collaboration with experts and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to adopt the Statistics Canada Necessity and Proportionality Framework: « It assesses proportionality and data sensitivity, and ensure statistical values such as  the protection of privacy and confidentiality. »

The second key recommendation goes on the sub-point 2.2 « This has been a call from the research community for decades, » says Jan Kestle — Introduce a new category of accredited users from government, academic and private research institutions, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations and communities, who would be granted access to more disaggregated microdata without having to be deemed employees of Statistics Canada.

She specifies that « such data environments can be successful only if done within Canada’s broader data system. » And adds that « new partnerships are required to facilitate connecting data —within a clearly specified confidentiality and security protocols and agreements, from different institutions in adherence to national standards on definitions, concepts and coding. » 

« A point of contention for many researchers is the legal requirement for users of more detailed microdata to become deemed employees of statistics Canada, » explains Jan Kestle. A Statistics Act 2.0 will have to address this point.

Ce contenu a été mis à jour le 2023-10-27 à 21 h 35 min.