Voter intelligence is big business unfettered by regulation

  • May 23, 2018

The recent scandal surrounding information-gathering by Cambridge Analytics and Facebook opened a lot of eyes to the amount of data that is out there to be collected, and the uses to which it can be put.

Usually when we think about Big Data we think of it in commercial terms – companies finding ways to use personal information about consumers in order to enhance their bottom lines. But Big Data’s not just for Big Business any more –political parties are also hoovering up Canadians’ data, and they’re doing it with relative abandon, compared with the restrictions placed on the business world.

“Political parties are not subject to privacy laws,” the CBA’s Privacy and Access Law Section points out in a submission regarding Bill C-50, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act, noting that laws meant to protect Canadians privacy in almost all other aspects of their lives, including the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the Privacy Act, or Canada’s Anti-Spam Law, do not apply to political parties.

“This legislative gap is significant, considering the vast amount of personal information of Canadians that federal political parties currently collect, use and disclose without their consent,” the Section says. “Voter intelligence has become big business and data and privacy protection laws need to keep up.”

The Section has some recommendations for options to close this legislative gap, including:

  • Amending the Canada Elections Act to limit the collection, use and disclosure of personal information in the context of political activities
  • Subjecting political parties to enhanced privacy principles, and stipulating that these protections extend beyond the writ period

The Section notes that political parties have an interest in collecting information on citizens, “only some of which is openly understood and regulated by the CEA.” Furthermore, people who work on political campaigns have access to extensive personal data without necessarily having had training in privacy issues.

Elections Canada itself has recommended amending the CEA to extend privacy principles, which govern most Canadian institutions and organizations to political parties, and requiring those parties to “demonstrate due diligence” when providing access to their databases.

The Section encourages the government to consider amendments to the CEA, and also encourages ”further study to ensure that effective data protection mechanisms are developed that promote democracy and protect the privacy rights of Canadian electors.”

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