New elections legislation fails to address privacy concerns
Bill C-76 fails to provide the necessary protections for citizens’ personal data or limit exemptions for political parties.
Today, Acting Democratic Institutions Minister Scott Brison announced Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments. Unfortunately, despite being introduced promising new privacy requirements for political parties, the “Elections Modernization Act” fails to demand even the basic standards that companies are already required to meet.
While Bill C-76 introduces a fair number of reforms to the Elections Act including elections funding, it fails to fundamentally address the privacy deficit that exists in Canada’s elections processes, as political parties are not subject to federal privacy law, or any constraints in their privacy practices.
The improved privacy protections being proposed in this bill do not provide even basic protections for citizens’ data. Bill C-76 would see political parties operating under a weaker framework than Facebook has already been using – essentially our political parties can continue do whatever they like with people’s private information so long as they’ve disclosed it somewhere in the fine print.
Listing all of the misuses of our data isn’t good enough. In the wake of the recent Cambridge Analytica revelations, privacy and security are top of mind for Canadians. We need to ensure that our personal information – and democracy – are protected. But it’s easy to wonder if our own government is actually acting with our best interests in mind, after it was revealed that the Liberal party paid $100,000 to the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower in 2016. If government is really serious about privacy, this Bill would go much further.
With federal elections due in 2019, questions are arising about the government’s ability to implement these changes in time for the next election cycle, and how this will limit the opportunities for parliamentary debate and analysis. In order to safeguard our democracy, and protect citizens’ data from exploitation or misuse by our political parties, we need strong, clear privacy rules that extend to elections processes. Among other things, this includes giving the Privacy Commissioner of Canada the power to enforce compliance, and issue fines to any organizations which abuse private data, which can be used to influence our elections – especially political parties.
Currently, Canada’s existing privacy legislation (PIPEDA) lacks the enforcement powers to force non-compliant organizations to meet their privacy obligations. However, political parties are not subject to PIPEDA, or any other federal privacy regulation.
The Acting Minister for Democratic Institutions has indicated in response to recent controversies that he would be open to strengthening federal privacy laws to better defend those who share their information online.
Over 11,000 Canadians have signed a letter to the Minister for Democratic Institutions asking for a commitment to reform PIPEDA and the Privacy Act at https://act.openmedia.org/pipeda.