Government not ready to apply privacy laws to political parties

The government isn’t ready to legislate changes that would put political parties under privacy laws, but says other tools could be developed to help mitigate the threat to Canadians' personal information.

Parties currently don't have to disclose the kind of data they collect about Canadians

The government has no current plans to bring in legislation that would loop political parties under privacy laws, according to Scott Brison. (CBC News)

The government isn't ready to legislate changes that would put political parties under privacy laws, but suggests other tools could be developed to help mitigate the threat to Canadians' personal information.

"We are open to moving to strengthen the privacy regime that governs political parties," Scott Brison, acting minister of democratic institutions, told CBC Radio's The House.

But he said he wants to consult with all political parties before developing an action plan.

Although the recent scandal over how Cambridge Analytica used private information to profile voters during the U.S. election has governments around the world thinking about how data should be kept private, Brison said he wants to tread carefully.

The risk in developing privacy policies that target political parties, he said, is that you might restrict their ability to interact with constituents.

"There's a difference between foreign [cyber-]bots thwarting our domestic election results, and the legitimate use of digital for political parties to engage citizens in debates about the future of their country."

Currently, parties are not covered under certain privacy laws like the Privacy Act and the the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

Parties have own privacy policies

Brison said that doesn't necessarily make it a free-for-all.

"All political parties have privacy policies," he said.

The government, he said, is open to figuring out a "uniform approach" across parties — but that wouldn't necessarily result in legislation.

While that might be a step in the right direction, it also might not be enough to satisfy privacy experts.

Legislation making parties accountable to privacy laws is sorely needed, said Daniel Therrien, Canada's privacy commissioner.

Digital interference has moved to a point where personal information can be used for "nefarious purposes in the political process," Therrien said.

Omitting political parties from privacy legislation means people don't know what information has been collected about them, he added.

Privacy commissioner probing Facebook breach

As the fallout continues from last week's news that Facebook data was passed on by Cambridge Analytica, it's still not clear how much Canadian data was affected.

The privacy commissioner's office launched an investigation into the site after the data mining firm was accused of improperly obtaining the personal information of millions of Facebook users to build voter profiles ahead of the U.S. election and Brexit votes.

Therrien and Brison both said they had spoken with Facebook about the privacy breach, and both said they indicated they wanted to see the social media titan come up with a plan to better protect users' private information in the future.

It's not just Canada struggling with these issues, Brison said, adding he wants to discuss with foreign governments the best options for getting ahead of digital threats.

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