Canadian political parties exempt from privacy laws

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Canadian federal privacy protection law does not cover federal political parties.

Most people are astounded when they realize that.

But it is the reality: political parties can use any information they gather about voters for basically any purpose they want – without the voter’s consent or knowledge.

In the wake of the Facebook scandal, who allowed unauthorized use of some 50 million users’ profiles by Cambridge Analytica, a firm accused of helping crunch data for Donald Trump’s campaign, many Canadians are waking up to that reality.

A Canadian data geek, Christopher Wyllie, blew the whistle that led to the uproar.  After initial denials, it also led to the disclosure that Wyllie received $100,000 from the Liberal research bureau for an obscure project.  Surely there was no data-mining being done and most certainly not on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, since the Liberal research bureau is funded by taxpayers and therefore must only perform parliamentary-related work.

Do you feel like complaining?

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada does not have jurisdiction over political parties under either the Privacy Act or the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.  The Canada Elections Act does specify how the voters’ lists that they provide to parties and Members of Parliament can be used, but it’s not very restrictive.

“The absence of regulation facilitates the manipulation of information to influence elections in a way which I think is completely contrary to the public interest”, privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien told the Canadian Press.

The minister for democratic institutions, Scott Brison, says he is open to strengthening federal privacy laws.  But don’t hold your breath if you want these changes to apply to political parties.  MPs have little interest in closing the gap benefiting the operations of their respective party.

Indeed, the three main parties are singing from the same song book.

Liberal Party spokesman Brandan Caley insisted the Liberal Party follows the laws and protects the information of Canadians as a “foremost priority.”  Conservative spokesman stated: “On the laws, we’ll do what we’ve always done, and that’s follow them.”  NDP National Director Melissa Bruno said the party fully respects privacy rules and regulations on the use of data covering political parties.

So everybody is following the laws, which basically doesn’t cover parties.  The current storm could force political parties to re-examine how they harvest and use data in the lead up to the 2019 federal election.  People who are concerned about their private information and how it is used should be worried and should demand changes in the law.  Because right now, politicos are hoping the public fears fade away, and that a few more restrictions on business and NGOs will do the trick so they can go on with their conquest of power – and voters’ data.

More from Karl Bélanger    Follow Karl Bélanger on Twitter at @KarlBelanger.

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