OTTAWA–Political parties should not be allowed to collect and use Canadians’ private information without rules or oversight, Canada’s privacy watchdogs say.
There are currently no laws restricting how federal political parties collect, store and use Canadians’ private information, even as those parties are increasingly reliant on sophisticated data operations to win elections.
That needs to change, said federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien.
“Political parties are gathering significant amounts of personal information on voters as they adopt new targeting techniques,” Therrien said in a joint statement from federal, provincial and territorial watchdogs. The statement was released Monday morning.
“Information about our political views is highly sensitive and it’s clearly unacceptable that federal and provincial parties are not subject to privacy laws.”
British Columbia is the only jurisdiction at the provincial level that has concrete rules around how parties can amass private information on voters.
In June, MPs on the House of Commons’ privacy and access to information committee unanimously endorsed a recommendation to subject federal parties to privacy laws, and called for more transparency on how parties use big data and analytics.
The recommendation stemmed from the committee’s study into the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, where 87 million Facebook users — including 600,000 Canadians — had their data improperly harvested and used for political analysis.
The recommendation was endorsed by MPs from all three major parties on the committee. At the time, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould’s office did not commit to moving on the recommendation.
Gould’s office did not immediately respond to an information request Monday afternoon.
Last month, the Canadian Press reported the Liberals were looking to “beef up” Bill C-76, their reforms to Canada’s election laws. The bill is broad, but partially meant to ensure the 2019 election is secure from foreign interference or tampering.
Bill C-76 requires political parties to be transparent about how they use data. But without independent oversight, Canadians would have to simply take parties’ at their word that their databases are secure and not being misused. It also does not subject parties to federal privacy laws.
Therrien said C-76 adds “nothing of substance” in terms of protecting Canadians’ privacy.
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier