Federal parties face competition probe over collection of Canadians’ personal data

A digital rights group founded by former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie wants to change the way federal parties amass and use data on Canadian citizens.

OTTAWA–Three federal political parties are facing a competition probe over their near unfettered collection and use of Canadians’ personal information, the Star has learned.

The Competition Bureau has launched an investigation into how the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats amass and use data on Canadian citizens.

Federal political parties have been collecting personal information about Canadian citizens for years, but have not been subjected to the privacy laws rules that private interests and government have to follow. There is almost no transparency into parties’ data operations — an increasingly central part of how parties identify and target voters.

A digital rights group founded by former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie wants to change that.

In their complaint to the Competition Bureau, the Centre for Digital Rights argued that “big data mass surveillance and harvesting techniques” by federal parties and “targeted digital advertising employed by them “undermine the trust of Canadian voters.”

“Since May 2018, CDR has been raising serious and urgent concerns about the data protection policies and practices of Canada’s three main federal political parties … in discussions (with) a number of Canadian law enforcement agencies,” a statement from the organization read.

CDR’s campaign to enforce rules on political parties’ data operations includes five formal complaints to different regulatory bodies, including Elections Canada and the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, and privacy watchdogs at the federal level and in British Columbia.

“CDR will pursue these complaints with focus and intensity. It will continue trying to encourage Canadian law enforcement agencies to work together to hold Canada’s federal political parties accountable for violations of Canadians privacy rights and freedoms,” the group said.

“Canada has many robust laws based on broad principles that, if properly interpreted and vigorously enforced to protect Canadians … can effectively regulate for the public good what Canada’s federal political parties do with Canadians’ personal information.”

More to come.

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