Federal government issues new rules for public servants using AI

The federal government has introduced new guidelines for employees who want to use artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT on the job to ensure the technology is being used responsibly, says Treasury Board President Anita Anand.

Anand says government will monitor to ensure AI tools aren't biased and don't discriminate

A phone with an orange app on it.
The ChatGPT app on an iPhone. The federal government has issued new guidelines on the use of generative AI in the public service. (Richard Drew/The Associated Press)

The federal government has introduced new guidelines for employees who want to use artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT on the job to ensure the technology is being used responsibly, says Treasury Board President Anita Anand.

Anand said the government also will be monitoring the way AI is being used to guard against potential problems like bias or discrimination.

"As a racialized woman myself, I am very conscious about the potential for bias to creep into decision making," she told CBC News. "I will say that the purpose of these guidelines is to ensure responsible use of generative AI and we will be monitoring to ensure that bias does not creep in if employees do go down the road to use generative AI."

Anand said the guidelines, which complement the existing directive to government departments on artificial intelligence, provide preliminary guidance to employees and will be updated as needed. While there are currently no penalties for violating the new guidelines, Anand said they are based on existing legislation such as the Privacy Act that could trigger a penalty.

"The legal obligation continues to remain on all employees regardless of these guidelines," Anand said. "The guidelines are on top of those existing obligations."

While the Treasury Board's guidelines for generative AI recommend that federal institutions explore ways to use these tools, it also warns of risks — including cybersecurity threats, bias, violations of privacy and inaccurate information.

The guidelines define generative AI as technology that "produces content such as text, audio, code, videos and images" for things like chatbots, e-mails, briefing notes, research or programming. The guidelines recommend caution when using AI for things like public communications on social media or automating "assessments, recommendations or decisions about clients."

If a department uses generative AI to respond to a citizen, answer questions via a chatbot, create a document or make a decision, it should be transparent about using the technology, the guidelines say.

Departments should "identify content that has been produced using generative AI, notify users that they are interacting with an AI tool, document decisions and be able to provide explanations if tools are used to support decision-making," the guidelines say.

A woman with long black hair is pictured looking beyond the camera. She is the only thing in focus.
The government's new rules on generative AI are "not about replacing employees at all," says Treasury Board President Anita Anand. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Anand said the government is issuing the guidelines now because "the public service is at the initial stages in recognizing the importance of AI."

"These guidelines that we have issued will make sure that employees are aware of not using private or secret information, making sure that content is factual, making sure that we are transparent about its use, and making sure that we're complying with laws and policies as well."

It's not about eliminating jobs: Anand

Anand said the government isn't adopting AI in a bid to eliminate jobs.

"This is not about replacing employees at all," Anand said. "This use of generative AI is as a tool to further the work of existing and future employees."

Jennifer Carr is president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), whose members include government computer experts. She said her union has not been consulted on the guidelines or decisions by departments to introduce new AI tools or systems.

Carr said the government's new generative AI guidelines need some work.

"It only proposes that the government 'be careful' on how they use AI," Carr said. "'Be careful' is a very subjective term. What we're really looking for is that there are strict regulations or guidelines, where there are go and no-go zones."

WATCH: Treasury Board president discusses new rules for AI use

Ottawa's AI guidelines will address privacy, transparency: Anand

7 months ago
Duration 0:52
Treasury Board President Anita Anand explains how the government is using artificial intelligence tools and why it has issued guidelines for how employees should — and shouldn't — use generative AI.

Carr said the government guidelines should indicate whether AI is the best tool for a given job.

"AI has enormous potential when it comes to synthesizing scientific data. Things that we had to do by hand can be done in nanoseconds by computers using AI," she said.

"But if somebody is cut off of a benefit because there's no human interface, that's where we get concerned."

If some jobs are going to be replaced by AI, the government should "upskill" the employees who occupy those jobs and train them in new areas, Carr said.

Picture of Chris Aylward, president of PSAC.
Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says AI should enhance public service jobs - not replace them. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Chris Aylward, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), said unions and workers should be consulted when the government wants to start using artificial intelligence tools or systems.

"Any automation or use of artificial intelligence should enhance workers' jobs and working conditions and not replace them," he said in a media statement.

"We are pleased to see the government include best practices designed to mitigate this," he wrote. "The government must ensure these best practices are upheld, including providing ongoing training to users so they can identify biased or discriminatory content generated by AI."

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at Elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca


Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.