OTTAWA – Three federal political parties face an investigation of their collection and almost unlimited use of Canadian personal information.
The Competition Bureau confirmed Wednesday that it launched an investigation into how liberals, conservatives and new Democrats accumulate and use data on Canadian citizens.
The investigation is the result of complaints that parties are deceiving Canadians about the information they collect and analyze about voters.
Federal political parties have been collecting personal information about Canadian citizens for years, but they have not been subject to the privacy laws that private interests and government agencies must follow. There is almost no transparency in party 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 its complaint to the Competition Office, the Digital Rights Center argued that the parties are violating competition laws by deceiving Canadians about how their personal information is collected and used.
“Since May 2018, CDR has been raising serious and urgent concerns about the data protection policies and practices of the three major federal parties in Canada … in discussions (with) several Canadian law enforcement agencies,” he said. Read in a statement from the organization.
If the Competition Office rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the parties could face fines of up to $ 10 million, according to CDR lawyer Bill Hearn.
But the goal is not to bankrupt political parties, Hearn said. It is to try to encourage them to change their forms.
“And admit that (federal parties) are subject to the same laws that all other organizations in the country must follow,” Hearn said in an interview on Wednesday.
“Political parties somehow feel, in one way or another, that they have exemptions (from the law). And we come back and say no, that it is a dangerous misconception … you must comply.”
The Competition Bureau confirmed the active investigation of the accusations “the three political parties have made misleading statements about how they collect, use and / or disclose personal information of Canadians,” said a spokesman for the regulator.
“The office is currently gathering evidence to determine the facts. There is no conclusion of irregularities at this time, “Marie-Christine Vézina wrote in a statement.
“Since the law requires the office to do its work in a confidential manner, we cannot provide more details about the investigation.”
The data has become central to the work of federal political parties in Canada. The Constituent Information Management System of Conservatives has been recognized as an important part of the party’s successes between 2006 and 2015.
Liberals, including close advisers to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are great believers in the power of data operations. It is believed that the ruling party has erased the advantage of conservatives in data operations, perhaps even surpassing its rivals.
But recent years have shown a significant dark side of the misuse of big data as a political tool. The Cambridge Analytica Facebook scandal, in which tens of millions of social media users obtained and used their personal information without knowing it in political campaigns, is just the best known example.
A committee of all parties of the House of Commons recently recommended that political parties be explicitly included in the privacy laws of Canada’s private sector, known as PIPEDA, the type of expectations and basic rules that govern how private companies should Protect the personal information of Canadians.
The CoR is promoting that recommendation as the government considers changes to PIPEDA, although liberals have shown little enthusiasm for extending the privacy rules for political parties.
“Protecting the information of Canadians with whom we interact remains a top priority for the party in all our operations, organization and communications,” Braeden Caley wrote in a statement.
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Jesse Strean Calvert, NDP national deputy director, said the party will continue to “push for change” in the application of privacy laws to Canadian federal parties.
“We continue to operate within the rules and regulations that apply to political parties regulated by the federal government. For years, new Democrats have been pushing for stronger privacy laws that would include federal political parties, ”Strean Calvert wrote in a statement.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.