The House

Facebook breach a sign Canadian laws need revamp: privacy commissioner

The privacy breach involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook that came to light this week is just the latest in a long series of red flags that should signal to the federal government that privacy laws need to be strengthened, says Canada's privacy commissioner.
A laptop showing the Facebook logo is held alongside a Cambridge Analytica sign at the entrance to the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica, in central London on March 21, 2018. Facebook expressed outrage over the misuse of its data as Cambridge Analytica, the British firm at the centre of a major scandal rocking the social media giant, suspended its chief executive. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images) (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)
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The privacy breach involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook that came to light this week is just the latest in a long series of red flags that should signal to the federal government that privacy laws need to be strengthened, says Canada's privacy commissioner.

Daniel Therrien has launched an investigation into the social media giant after millions of users' personal information was obtained by a data mining firm and later used to build voter profiles ahead of the U.S. election and Brexit votes.

"The issue is there is regulation, but the regulation gives so much latitude to companies … that it's clear that laws need to be strengthened," Therrien told The House.

Part of Therrien's investigation included a Friday meeting between his staff and Facebook officials to see if Canadians' data was included in the information scraped by Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook only tip of the iceberg

But while Facebook's breach is troubling, it isn't the crux of the problem, Therrien said.

"I think that's leading to a growing realization in society that these processes need to be regulated with a bit more rigour."

Currently, political parties are not beholden to privacy laws like the Privacy Act and the the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

This means they don't have to disclose what information they have or are collecting about individuals.

It's those laws the privacy commissioner is referring to, though he's not the only one pointing to gaps in the system.

"It doesn't make sense that political parties and their information is immune to the kind of regulation and oversight that government departments have," Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's former Information and Privacy Commissioner, told The House.

"Clearly that's no longer acceptable in this day and age."

Therrien has repeatedly called for the government to re-examine Canadian privacy laws, but nothing has happened - something that disappoints him.

"They're slow."

While the investigation into Facebook is ongoing and the government mulls over the best course of action, Cavoukian says Canadians shouldn't be passive when it comes to their privacy.

"I reject that notion that whatever you give online is going to be floating around forever in multiple third party's hands. No. Say no to that."  

It might be remembered as a turning point when it comes to privacy in our increasingly digital world. Stories involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have generated reactions around the world. Canada's Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, joins us to discuss his investigation, and what changes to privacy laws the federal government should consider. 12:16