Can Artificial Intelligence level the playing field in Canadian communications policy debates?

Posted on Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Canadian communications industry generates roughly $70 billion annually in Canada and touches nearly every single Canadian in multiple and significant ways. But when it comes to shaping government policy and communications regulation, individual members of the public, along with academics and often precariously-funded public interest organizations, compete with multi-billion dollar telecom, internet, and international broadcasting giants to craft arguments and present evidence.

Through the support of the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO), a new partnership seeks to reduce the barriers to effective public participation in communications policy making. The University of Ottawa’s Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) and vLex Canada, a globally-proven legal intelligence platform, are joining forces to help level the playing field in communications policy debates.

CIPPIC is an extremely active advocate on behalf of the public interest before regulators, courts and governments in matters concerning communication, internet, privacy and other technology-influenced issues. vLex, meanwhile, develops and delivers tools that enable millions of lawyers, law students, as well as court and government employees around the world to quickly access and work with the legal information contained within databases comprising over 120,000,000 documents.

For this LFO-funded project, CIPPIC will apply its expertise to an information collection and governance initiative that will transform hundreds of thousands of pages of policy submissions, CRTC and court decisions, legislative resources, and more into “inputs” suitable for advanced data mining. Once ingested into the vLex Iceberg legal intelligence platform, vLex and third-party AI technologies will further refine and organize the data in ways that will uncover the insights previously only accessible through deploying armies of industry lawyers.

“Our objective in this project is to support CIPPIC’s ability to extend its expertise in distilling complex policy issues into frameworks that can accelerate their advocacy efforts and multiply their effectiveness,” says Colin Lachance, General Manager of vLex North America. “This is so much more than merely building a single research tool, as we are supplying CIPPIC with the platform and training to allow them to easily generate new public interest apps, and to extend the framework into other policy domains.”

“The impetus for this collaboration with vLex was the government’s Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislation Review and the recognition that meaningful participation from the public is extremely challenging,” says David Fewer, General Counsel of CIPPIC. “With over 2,000 submissions in just this one review, it’s not a simple task for the public, politicians or even the media to figure out who is saying what, and consequently it’s extraordinarily difficult to undertake thoughtful consideration of the issues and to communicate or consider the impact on the public of policy change.”

The first public beta version of the research tool is planned for early in 2020, and a comprehensive and permanent research tool will be available within a year. CIPPIC and uOttawa law students are already immersed in data collection and tagging efforts, and stand to benefit from training in legal knowledge engineering and legal app development.

“We are deeply grateful to the Law Foundation of Ontario for making the funding for this project available to us,” says David Fewer. “This project perfectly fits our mandate. It has enabled us to engage in a legal tech initiative that can simultaneously advance education and research while building capacity for public advocacy objectives.”

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