Federal parties’ exemption from privacy law a double-standard


by Marianela Ramos Capelo

Currently, federal political parties are exempt from following federal privacy law, meaning that all the standards put in place to ensure that businesses do not mishandle Canadians’ data do not apply to political parties. This includes the duty to adopt systems that protect sensitive, personal information and to inform people when their data has been put at risk after a hack. So why are political parties exempt from following privacy law? It is not entirely clear.

While the move to make political parties abide by data privacy laws is supported by Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien, Elections Canada and members of the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee, a recent opportunity to make it a reality fell through the cracks.

Despite the wide popular support from Canadians, with 72% of people polled supporting the measure, the Liberal government decided not to include this requirement in Bill C-76, the bill that aims to update the Canada Elections Act. The government also rejected amendments by other parties to include these privacy requirements.

Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, went as far as suggesting that requiring political parties to have a public privacy policy on their website was enough. This statement was surprising given that one of the stated aims of Bill C-76 is to establish measures that limit foreign interference in Canadian elections to prevent situations similar to the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data mishandling scandal that took place during the US presidential election.

Privacy laws are meant to regulate the collection, storage and use of our personal data, an increasingly valuable asset in today’s digital world and one that can potentially make or break elections, as we’ve seen with our neighbours south of the border. Therefore, it is irresponsible to let political parties hold themselves to a different standard.

Whether it is creating specific privacy rules that regulate political parties or requiring them to follow the existing ones (i.e. the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act or PIPEDA), it is time the federal government held political parties accountable for their use and misuse of Canadians’ data. With a federal election coming up in the not-so-distant future, we cannot afford this issue to be put on the back-burner.

There is still some time to put pressure on the Minister of Democratic Institutions to step up and, as her role dictates, put policies in place that ensure the digital health of the players in our democratic process.

OpenMedia has launched a campaign in which you can email both Minister Karina Gould and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to demand an end to the double-standard of privacy for political parties. Make sure to add your voice while there’s still time. See act.openmedia.org/PIPEDA

Marianela Ramos Capelo is a design specialist in the communications team for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Leave a comment