Amid growing privacy concerns over the proposed Google-partnered neighbourhood on Toronto’s waterfront, former chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat is promising more oversight of city agencies if she is elected mayor.
“Some of our agencies have been operating in the dark for too long,” Keesmaat told a news conference Tuesday at Small St. and Queens Quay, near the site of the proposed Quayside neighbourhood.
The neighbourhood is being built as a partnership between Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of Google. A detailed project description has yet to be released, but concern is growing over what will happen to the data expected to be collected from cameras, sensors and smartphones in the neighbourhood, and whether it will amount to mass surveillance.
“The deal with Sidewalk Labs was done behind closed doors, without proper public transparency about what Waterfront Toronto and Google were planning to do to our waterfront,” Keesmaat said.
“There are deep and growing concerns about data privacy and we are still missing key details about Google’s plans, to say nothing of the flawed and troubling process that got us here today. It’s unacceptable.”
Keesmaat said that if elected mayor, she will lead a transparency review of Waterfront Toronto, Toronto Hydro, the Toronto Transit Commission and Toronto Community Housing, and ensure that in future they operate with the same level of transparency found at city hall.
“We need to instill the strongest standards for making meetings public,” said Keesmaat, who is running a distant second to incumbent Mayor John Tory.
“Closed door meetings should be the exception, not the rule and that’s not the case right now at many of our agencies.”
Keesmaat said she also wants to see detailed public disclosure of the deals that are made with consultants and contractors.
On Monday, Sidewalk Labs promised it won’t control the data, saying it wants to see a public trust created to take charge of it.
Earlier this month, tech expert Saadia Muzaffar resigned from Waterfront Toronto’s digital strategy advisory panel, citing concerns about the lack of safeguards in place to protect the project’s data and digital infrastructure.
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF