British Columbia

B.C. privacy watchdog slams proposed disclosure of voter records

British Columbia's privacy watchdog is raising red flags about proposed changes to the Election Act that would let political parties know if people voted.

Elizabeth Denham fears parties would use information about whether people voted for their own gains

B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham says proposed changes to the Election Act could lead to a misuse of personal information. (CBC)

British Columbia's privacy watchdog is raising red flags about proposed changes to the Election Act that would let political parties know if people voted.

Bill 20, which was tabled in the B.C. Legislature in late March, would allow Elections BC to provide a list of voters to political parties with information about which individuals have voted.

The information would be disclosed after advance voting, during general voting, or after an election or byelection.

The amendment, which was recommended by B.C.'s Chief Electoral Officer in 2014, was hailed as a way to boost low voter turnout.

But B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is worried that political parties would use the personal information for their own gains, including targeting British Columbians for fundraising or marketing activities, or creating voter profiles.

"Really, what it does is it supports the downstream activities of political parties," Denham told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

"The concern is not about formalizing and codifying what happens on election day...It's the disclosure of the list in bulk and digital form to all political parties after the fact.

"I can't link that with the worthwhile objective of getting more people out to vote."

Info could be linked with other databases

The list will only detail if — and not how — people voted. Most political parties already collect such information during their campaigns through volunteers or surveys.

But Denham says that feeding official voter information into larger data bases could easily lead to privacy concerns such as voter profiling.

"That data is a key data element that can be linked to many other types of data, to really make a pretty sophisticated and accurate call on how they voted."

"I think in a big data world where there's sophisticated analytics, they've got people's names, their addresses, their postal codes, the fact that they've voted," she said.

Denham has written a letter to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, who says she has no intention of withdrawing the amendment.

However, Anton says she's invited Elections BC to draft regulations limiting how this information can be used

To hear the full interview with Elizabeth Denham, listen to the audio labelled: Political parties and your privacy

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