72% of people in Canada support stronger privacy rules for political parties
A vast majority of Canadians support changing the law so that political parties follow the same privacy rules as private companies. But politicians remain keen to keep the exemptions that they have given themselves.
Bill C-76, the sprawling, 300+ page electoral reform bill aimed at boosting democratic participation and limiting foreign influence in our elections, is being rushed through the House with limited opportunity for debate.
And crucially, one key issue is missing from the bill: applying privacy laws to political parties.
Political parties are currently exempt from privacy laws like PIPEDA, which govern how private companies collect and store our personal data.
But instead of addressing this omission, the only change Bill C-76 makes is to require that parties publish their privacy policies. These policies must include a handful of issues, but there are no standards or oversight built in.
As it stands, the bill does not require parties to:
Seek consent from individuals,
Limit collection of personal information to what is required,
Limit disclosure of information to others,
Provide individuals access to their personal information
Be subject to independent privacy oversight.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, people around the world are increasingly concerned about how their personal information is gathered, used, and stored.
And new polling commissioned by OpenMedia shows that a large majority — 72% — of people in Canada support changing the law so that political parties follow the same privacy rules as private companies. Only 3% support the status quo policy of fewer restrictions for political parties.
This view is supported by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, who spoke to the committee studying the bill about the importance of ending this exemption, saying that:
“information about our political views is highly sensitive and therefore particularly worthy of privacy protection.”
Over ten thousand people in Canada have also signed a letter asking for reform of our privacy laws. And a key demand in that letter is for Canada’s political parties be subject to Federal privacy laws.
OpenMedia was also invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) as witnesses, as part of the committee’s work studying the bill. We addressed this issue and made sure the committee heard the voices of people across Canada.
But despite public statements from ministers saying that they are open to amending the bill, there seems to be a great deal of reluctance from politicians to remove this exception they currently enjoy. Even with the overwhelming majority of people in Canada supporting reform alongside privacy experts and our own Privacy Commissioner, committee members are consistently failing to meaningfully engage with this issue.
People in Canada are increasingly concerned that politicians may not be working in our best interests, especially after it was revealed that the Liberal Party made payments of $100,000 for a data 'pilot project' to Christopher Wylie, the man who went on to blow the whistle on Cambridge Analytica's exploitation of Facebook data. Yet during hearings on this bill, committee members have consistently ignored or even attacked the witnesses who are urging them to change this, rather than take action.
As the bill continues to move forward, we have an uphill battle on our hands to get politicians to prioritize our privacy and security over their own political interests. Politicians need a reminder that political participation rises when politicians represent people’s interests. Stay tuned for more ways that we’ll be putting on the pressure.