Jim Balsillie, of the Council of Canadian Innovators, arrives to appear as a witness at a Commons privacy and ethics committee in Ottawa on Thursday, May 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Watchdog probes complaint about Canadian political parties’ data use

Centre for Digital Rights claims Liberals, Conservatives and NDP misused data and targeted ads

Canada’s competition watchdog is looking into a complaint about the data-harvesting practices of the main federal political parties.

In its complaint to the commissioner of competition, the Centre for Digital Rights flagged what it calls the large-scale misuse of big data and targeted digital advertising of the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic parties.

The centre, established by businessman and philanthropist Jim Balsillie, released a letter Wednesday from the Competition Bureau saying it had begun an investigation of the complaint.

Information about prospective voters is helpful to political parties for everything from door-to-door canvassing to shaping platforms. In the age of algorithms and vast databases, there are new concerns about how parties use such information to track and target people.

The centre says the parties’ use of personal information undermines the trust of Canadian voters “in the marketplace of goods, services and ideas” and contravenes the prohibition on deceptive marketing in the Competition Act.

It argues that while a political party conducts “a different shade of business” from a company that sells regular products or services, it is not excluded from competition law, said Bill Hearn, a lawyer for the digital-rights centre.

The centre has also filed complaints with the federal privacy commissioner, the B.C. information and privacy commissioner, the federal telecommunications regulator and Canada’s elections commissioner. It awaits responses from those agencies.

The centre is pushing for revision of the federal privacy law covering the private sector to apply expressly to political parties, constituency associations, candidates and candidate nomination contestants.

READ MORE: Groups ready campaign to help young voters identify ‘fake news’ in election

Even now, the centre argues, the federal parties use and disclose the personal information they collect from Canadians for purposes a reasonable person would consider contrary to their respective privacy policies, a violation of the requirements under the privacy law that people give “meaningful consent” for what happens to their data.

The digital-rights centre will “go to the courts” if privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien decides he lacks authority to investigate the complaint, Hearn said in an interview. Therrien is not the ultimate arbiter of the jurisdictional question, he said — the courts are.

An internal analysis by the privacy commissioner found last year that the major political parties failed to ensure people gave valid consent to the collection and use of their personal information.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

CGL must revise impact assessment on Unist’ot’en Healing Center

Environmental Assessment Office not satisfied with report’s shortcomings

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for end of police patrols

Temporary closure of field office not enough to meet demands

Confusion surrounds terms of RCMP withdrawal from pipeline construction area

B.C. Deputy Commissioner clarifies terms of agreement following minister’s statements

Stop checks, searches of Wet’suwet’en pipeline opposers unlawful: Watchdog

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs file complaint

Wet’suwet’en pipeline supporters speak up

“Protesters get one side of the story and they stand up with their fists in the air.”

VIDEO: Minister says consider coronavirus outbreak when planning for spring break

Foreign Affairs minister points to rash of new cases appearing in places like Italy and Iran

B.C. man who pulled a gun on off-duty cop gets two years in prison

Encounter also lead police to a home where 100 guns and explosives were found

‘It’s like he just vanished’: Quesnel man still missing, last seen two months ago

WARNING: This story contains references to suicide and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

COLUMN: Forestry no longer close to top of B.C.’s economy

Our reactions to a forestry downturn reflect the past, not the present

Caught on camera: Police release video of man who allegedly stole seaplane in Vancouver

Police say the man broke into the Harbour Air terminal and then got into one of the seaplanes in the harbour

51 health professionals send letter to Trudeau, Horgan panning northern B.C. pipeline

They point to studies about the health and climate change risks from pipeline

Most Read