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

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Clearwater Elks taking a hit because of COVID-19

President Marnie Burnell noted the group was already hurting before the pandemic came into effect

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

YCS receives support from Interior Savings’ relief fund

Money will go toward food programs and new technology to improve operations

VIA Rail lays off 1,000 unionized workers across the country

Northern B.C. route Jasper to Prince George to Prince Rupert is not affected by VIA Rail layoffs

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Most Read